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Grim Sleeper trial continues with L.A. County coroner detailing autopsy reports

Los Angeles County's chief medical examiner detailed gruesome wounds suffered by women believed to be among the first victims of the so-called Grim Sleeper serial killer, as testimony continued Wednesday in the trial of a former police garage attendant accused of the slayings.

Coroner Mark Fajardo described to jurors in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom the autopsy report of Debra Jackson, a 29-year-old waitress who was discovered in 1985 shot in the chest in an alley, and Henrietta Wright, who was found a year later with two gunshot wounds.

Lonnie Franklin Jr. faces 10 counts of murder in the killings of nine women and a 15-year-old girl spanning more than 20 years. He also faces one count of attempted murder.

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Franklin, 63, has pleaded not guilty.  

Fajardo was called to testify about his review of the autopsy records of eight of the women, whose postmortems were conducted by medical examiners who have since died or are unable to testify.

On Tuesday, the jury heard testimony from two other forensic pathologists, who detailed the autopsies they conducted on other victims, 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux and Janecia Peters, 25, who was found inside a trash bag in a Dumpster.

Former LAPD Det. Dennis Kilcoyne, who began his testimony on Tuesday, said it was Peters’ 2007 slaying that prompted the search for a serial killer after the attacker’s DNA matched two earlier cases.

The match helped investigators identify a common theme, Kilcoyne told the jury.

All three victims were young, black women who lived in the same area of the city. All of their bodies were discarded.

“We’ve got somebody killing young ladies in South Los Angeles,” Kilcoyne recalled saying at the time.

The DNA match eventually would lead to the arrest of Franklin, a local backyard mechanic and former Los Angeles police garage attendant, who was arrested in 2010.

Kilcoyne, who is expected to continue testimony later this week, said the connection made between the victims in 2007 led to the creation of a task force to investigate the three killings, as well as a mandate to expand the search for related cases.

A series of killing in the 1980s soon emerged as sharing similar circumstances.

Eventually, investigators began matching DNA with the killings from the 1980s to the more recent deaths.

The apparent gap in time from the earlier cases to the later ones led to the serial killer being dubbed the “Grim Sleeper.”

In 2008, officials collected DNA data from state prisoners, but were unsuccessful in finding a match with that of the Grim Sleeper.

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A year later, then-state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown approved a new technique called a “familial search” that allowed officials to check whether a crime suspect’s DNA partially matches anyone in the state’s offender DNA database.

The search came up with a name: Christopher Franklin. His father was Lonnie Franklin Jr.

Police began following the elder Franklin, and a detective, posing as a busboy, collected a half-eaten pizza crust, fork, napkin, drinking glass and cake crumbs discarded by Franklin at a restaurant.

During her opening statement Tuesday, Deputy Dist. Atty. Beth Silverman said that all of the victims were connected to Franklin either by DNA, firearm evidence or both.

The Homicide Report: A story for every victim>>

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

For more Los Angeles civil court news, follow @sjceasar.

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