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 but was never sent to state prison despite the recommendation of probation officers, court and jail records show.
Lonnie Franklin Jr. was arrested for burglary, car theft, firearms possession and assaults. But his crimes never were considered serious enough to send him to state prison or to warrant his entry in the state's DNA database, authorities said.
"He's danced to the raindrops for a long time without getting wet," Detective Dennis Kilcoyne, head of the task force investigating the killings, told the Los Angeles Times.
Franklin was arrested Wednesday on 10 counts of murder and other charges in the deaths of young black women that started in the 1980s, then suddenly stopped, only to resume again 14 years later — sparking the nickname Grim Sleeper.
Franklin's public defender, Regina Laughney, said she's still reviewing materials in the case and it was too early for her to comment.
One of the victims was killed in July 2003, when records show Franklin should have been in county jail but was released early because of overcrowding.
Franklin pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property in that case, in which he was arrested at a Glendale mall driving a stolen luxury sport utility vehicle.
A probation officer said it was unusual and disturbing that Franklin was still involved in such crimes at age 50, when most criminals have slowed down.
"If at this age the defendant is still engaging in criminal activities," the officer wrote, "the community can best be served by imposing the maximum time possible in state prison."
But Franklin received just a fraction of the maximum sentence— 270 days in jail — and was still released four months early, according to jail data obtained by the Times.
He also narrowly dodged the state DNA database. The following year, all felony convicts were put in the database after California voters passed a measure requiring it.
Despite the long and varied record, Kilcoyne said Franklin did not commit the kind of violent crimes against women that might have drawn the attention of detectives in the Grim Sleeper case.
Investigators now plan to use DNA 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.
A technique called "familial DNA" led detectives to Franklin. In early June, the state Department of Justice ran DNA from the case 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.
An undercover officer pretending to be a waiter in Los Angeles collected tableware, napkins, glasses and pizza crust at a restaurant where Franklin 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.
Associated Press Writer Thomas Watkins contributed to this report.
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