She was 15 with a shy smile and brilliant, dark eyes.
Hawthorne Police Sgt. Chris Cognac met her while investigating a sex crime in which she was the victim.
It was 2002, and Cognac got to know Princess Berthomieux as he worked to bring her assailant to justice. He spent time with her as the attacker’s trial approached, meeting her half a dozen times.
But once the trial began, Princess vanished.
As a photograph of the smiling teen was projected on a large screen in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, Cognac testified Wednesday that the next time he saw the girl was when he spotted an Inglewood police flier asking for help identifying the victim of a killing. He recognized the girl on the flier. Cognac told jurors that he called an Inglewood detective and told him the victim was Princess.
Authorities believe she was the youngest person slain by the so-called Grim Sleeper serial killer.
Prosecutors allege that Lonnie Franklin Jr., a former LAPD garage attendant, murdered Princess and others in a series of killings that spanned more than two decades. He is charged with 10 murders, including hers, and the attempted murder of another woman. He has pleaded not guilty.
Jurors in Franklin’s trial also heard Wednesday from Inglewood Police Det. Daniel Milchovich, who described responding to an alleyway March 9, 2002, where he found Princess’ naked body sprawled in a shrub.
The crime scene had scant physical evidence other than the body and some blood, leading Milchovich to believe she had been killed elsewhere and left at the location, he testified.
Prosecutors allege that Franklin killed the women in a car and left their bodies strewn across South Los Angeles.
Also Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Det. Roger Allen testified that he investigated the killing of Valerie McCorvey, whose body was found near an alley in the Westmont neighborhood of Los Angeles. Allen said McCorvey appeared to have been killed elsewhere and pushed out of a vehicle.
Defense attorney Seymour Amster, who has sought to discredit the work of investigators throughout the trial by pointing to items found at the various crime scenes but overlooked or ignored by police, focused much of his questioning of Allen on an orange peel found underneath McCorvey’s body.
Allen testified that the orange peel was not pertinent to the investigation.
“I didn’t think the killer was eating as he was dumping the body, so I thought it was part of the rubbish and trash in the alley,” Allen said.
Amster suggested the peel could have provided evidence that pointed to McCorvey’s assailant. Couldn’t the attacker, he asked, have eaten the orange and left it in the car only for it to have fallen out along with the body? Or couldn’t McCorvey’s attacker have gotten out of the vehicle and dropped the orange peel?
Allen said it was implausible for the orange peel to be connected to the crime.
“He could have been eating an orange, threw it on the ground, then threw her on top of the orange,” Allen said, to laughs from the audience.
For more on the “Grim Sleeper” trial, follow @sjceasar.