The already sensational “Grim Sleeper” serial killer trial took more twists Monday when the judge bluntly told the defendant’s lawyer to “chill” after his repeated outbursts.
“I’m going to have a stroke,” defense lawyer Seymour Amster claimed to Judge Kathleen Kennedy during a session with the jury and TV camera out of the courtroom but with spectators — including some of the victims’ relatives — witnessing the legal wrangling. The session came as the defense prepared to begin its case, following the prosecution’s presentations earlier.
Amster’s frustrations were fueled by the judge’s response to his subpoena of Los Angeles Police Department records. Those records focus on “chain of custody” evidence that prosecutors say links the victims to accused killer Lonnie Franklin Jr., but that the defense argues is flawed evidence.
The judge called Amster’s subpoena too broad, said she planned quash it and wanted it narrowed.
Amster, his head bobbing in apparently anger, exclaimed that the defense was “now going to rest. We now have no defense.”
While the defense lawyer frenetically paced and turned his back on the judge, the defendant, wearing a white shirt and peering through black-rimmed glasses, stared straight ahead.
Judge: ‘Do your job’
“I’m not asking you to have a stroke,” Kennedy told Armster. “I’m asking you to do your job.”
Prosecutor Beth Silverman jumped into the fray, saying she was “disgusted by the County of Los Angeles” for paying hundreds of thousand dollars to defense lawyers. “He (Amster) doesn’t play by the rules,” she added.
“Don’t keep on piping up,” the judge warned Silverman, a deputy district attorney, during her skirmishes with the defense.
The trial for Franklin began last month, some 30 years after the first of the “Grim Sleeper” victims was found fatally shot, her body dumped in a South Los Angeles alley,
Franklin, a former garbage collector and police garage attendant, is charged with killing one girl and nine women ranging in age from 15 to 35 over a span of three decades. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The killings for which Franklin is charged came in spurts that were 13 years apart, resulting in the nickname “the Grim Sleeper” for the period of apparent inactivity.
Franklin, 63, has pleaded not guilty.
The in-court dustups Monday elicited audible gasps from the gallery, including from family members of victims.
“That was just despicable,” Porter Alexander, father of murder victim Alicia Alexander, told CNN in the courthouse. “What has (Armster’s outburst) got to do with anything? I think it’s just unacceptable.”
Margaret Prescod, who formed the group Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders, described the defense proceedings as “ridiculous … so disrespectful.”
After the judge told Armster to calm down and narrow his subpoena request, and following a courtroom break, the defense lawyer began his long-deferred opening statement to the jury.
Defense challenges evidence, witness
His strategy unfurled victim by victim, as Armster told the panel Franklin’s DNA was not found in a couple of dozen investigative tests, including sexual assault kits, victims’ clothing and, in one case, a makeshift body bag.
Amster also said he will challenge firearm evidence and he questioned the testimony of star prosecution witness Eneitra Washington, the lone survivor of the “Grim Sleeper” attacks.
The defense lawyer said Washington told a friend after being shot in the atack, “‘They raped me’ … ‘they’ — not a single person.”
Earlier in the trial, prosecutor Silverman painted a picture of Franklin as a ruthless killer who preyed on victims’ dependency issues by luring them with the promise of crack cocaine to what became to horrific deaths.
Silverman told jurors firearm and DNA evidence connects all the victims to the defendant.