- Associated Press - Saturday, July 10, 2010

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The 57-year-old man charged with 10 murders in the Los Angeles “Grim Sleeper” case was arrested at least 15 times over four decades and was in police custody many times after the killings began, probation and jail records show.

The arrests of Lonnie Franklin Jr. for crimes including burglary, car theft and assault were never considered serious enough to send him to state prison or to warrant his entry in the state’s DNA database, according to a report in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times.

Franklin was dubbed the Grim Sleeper after a string of murders of young black women had south Los Angeles on edge in the mid-1980s. Then the killings suddenly stopped, only to resume again 14 years later. Investigators now say they have possibly uncovered the reason for the long respite: He may have been spooked by a near miss by police in 1988.

Franklin was arrested Wednesday on 10 counts of murder and other charges at his lime-green house, just three doors down from a home that was searched extensively by police 22 years ago after the killer’s only known survivor led cops there. His public defender, Regina Laughney, said she was still reviewing materials in the case and it was too early for her to comment.

One of the murder victims was killed in July 2003, when records show Franklin should have been in county jail for receiving stolen property but was released early because of overcrowding.

Investigators are trying to tie Franklin to dozens more murders, looking at more than 30 cold case files dating to 1984, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Friday.

“Now that we know who he is, where he lives, the cars he drove, have people to interview, we will go over all those old cases and look for connections,” Beck said.

Investigators will upload Franklin’s DNA profile into a national database to see if it matches other samples where the DNA had degraded and scientists only were able to get a partial sample, Beck said.

Franklin faced up to three years in prison in 2003 after pleading no contest to receiving stolen property. He was sentenced to 270 days in jail and released in May 2003, more than four months early, the records showed. Two months later, the body of one of Franklin’s alleged victims was found.

Law enforcement said despite more than two decades of old-fashioned police work, they were finally able to crack the case using a new and disputed technique of “familial DNA.”

In early June, the state Department of Justice ran newly submitted DNA through a database of 1.5 million samples.

The database found no identical matches, but did find a “familial” match to a convicted felon whose DNA indicated he was either a brother or the son of the killer. An earlier search in 2008 had found no familial matches, but Franklin’s son was added to the database in recent months for a felony weapons conviction.

State investigators alerted the LAPD of Franklin’s identity on June 30 after verifying the match through birth certificates and other records.

But police still needed a sample of Franklin’s DNA to definitively match it to what was found on the victims.

An undercover officer pretending to be a waiter in Los Angeles collected tableware, napkins, glasses and pizza crust at a restaurant where the suspect ate, allowing detectives to obtain a DNA match.

Franklin made a first court appearance Thursday on the murder counts as well as one count of attempted murder and special-circumstance allegations of multiple murder that could lead to the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole.

His arraignment was postponed until Aug. 9 at the request of his attorney.

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Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.