LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An ex-sanitation worker charged with 10 murders dating back 30 years began preying on his victims, mostly prostitutes with drug addictions, during a crack epidemic that proved fertile ground for a Los Angeles serial killer in the 1980s, prosecutors told jurors on Tuesday.
Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Beth Silverman charted the course of the slayings, and the gritty environment in which they occurred, in opening statements at the trial of Lonnie David Franklin Jr., accused of being a mass murderer dubbed the “Grim Sleeper.”
The 63-year-old defendant, who has been jailed since his 2010 arrest, has pleaded not guilty, but could face the death penalty if convicted in the case, which hinges largely on DNA and firearms evidence.
Franklin stands charged with murder in the shooting deaths of seven women between August 1985 and September 1988, and the strangulation deaths of a 15-year-old girl and two other women when the killings resumed between March 2002 and January 2007.
Franklin has also been charged with attempted murder in an attack on an 11th victim, who was shot in the chest, raped and pushed out of a car and left for dead in 1988. Silverman declined to say for certain whether she would be called as a witness, telling jurors her memories have faded in the intervening decades.
The gap of more than 13 years between the two spates of killings earned the suspected killer the “Grim Sleeper” moniker. But Silverman said DNA evidence collected from the victims’ bodies would show that all 10 had sexual contact with Franklin just prior to their deaths.
Their bodies were found dumped in alleys and trash bins in South Los Angeles, an area gripped by rampant drug abuse, prostitution and other crime at the height of a crack cocaine epidemic that engulfed impoverished neighborhoods during the 1980s.
“It was a perfect place and time for a serial killer to roam the streets of Los Angeles,” Silverman told the jurors.
The defense declined without explanation to present an opening statement before prosecutors began to call their first witnesses.
Since the March 2011 indictment against him, police said they had evidence linking Franklin to at least six more slayings, some of which took place during the previously presumed lapse in killings.
But authorities opted not to seeking additional charges against Franklin in order to avoid slowing down his prosecution.
Silverman told jurors the trial would probably last about three months.
Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Sara Catania, G Crosse and Bill Rigby