Nearing Los Angeles Superior Court judge Kathleen Kennedy's courtroom on the 9th floor, I could almost touch the tension that filled the air. Dozens of reporters stood outside the courtroom waiting. More than twenty family members of victims began showing up.
My eyes went directly to Mary Alexander, whose 18-year-old daughter Monique was murdered in September of 1988, her body dumped in an alley like trash. Mary, her husband Porter and their family members had been holding vigil in the court hallway for the last day-and-a-half, waiting for the jury to reach a verdict. They looked tired and emotionally spent. It had been a long journey for them. Porter had taken time off his job as a property manager so he could attend the three-month-long trial with his family. Monique's brother Donnell had been there as well, making sure his parents, who were both in their 70s, were okay.
Nick Ut / AP
I met the Alexander family in 2008 when I showed up at their house unexpectedly. I was a reporter at the LA Weekly working on a story about an unknown serial killer who had been murdering young black women in South Los Angeles since the mid-1980s. The killer appeared to have taken a 13-and-a-half-year hiatus from killing before resuming his murder spree in 2002, and consequently my editor and I dubbed him the "Grim Sleeper." We later learned that he had never taken a break.
The Alexanders were surprised to see me on their doorstep but were incredibly welcoming. No one had talked to them about Monique's murder for more than 20 years. Looking at Porter's eyes glistening with tears and hearing him blame himself for his daughter's death, I could hardly imagine how long he had suffered without answers. I could not fathom not knowing the fate of my loved ones, yet he and his family lived with this horrific mystery for decades.
After police arrested Lonnie Franklin Jr., a married father of two and former LAPD mechanic and sanitation worker for the city of Los Angeles, for the murders of 10 women and the attempted murder of another in 2010, there were a series of pre-trial hearings. The Alexanders went to almost every single one for more than five years, and so did I. So did victim Barbara Ware's stepmother, Diana, who took a 90-minute bus ride every two weeks to be at the hearings that sometimes only lasted five minutes. These victims were loved.
AP Pool / Nick Ut,Pool
When the clerk read the guilty verdict in Monique's case, I could hear the sobs of Mary and Porter behind me. "God is good," said Mary. Donnell and his brother Daryn lowered their heads, two strong men overwhelmed by emotion.
Next came the verdict for 15-year-old Princess Berthomieux, whose strangled body was found in an alley in Inglewood in March of 2002. Her sister Samara Herard's face was wet with tears.
As I sat processing the verdict, I looked over at retired LAPD detective Dennis Kilcoyne, supervisor of the task force that nabbed Franklin, and he gave me a wink. He looked as overwhelmed as everyone else, including me. Though I have known him to be stoic, I could see the emotion in his face. I could see that same emotion in the faces of LAPD lead investigator Daryn Dupree and prosecutors Beth Silverman and Marguerite Rizzo, who were as tough as nails during the trial.
Reporters ran out of the courtroom to file their stories but I couldn't leave my seat. I needed to take in the end of a decades-long journey. When I finally left the courtroom I encountered a family scene: detectives hugging victims' family members, prosecutors hugging police and family members hugging me. In that moment, everyone was family.
My tears dried up until burly Donnell wrapped me in his arms, crying. He thanked me for showing up at his door so many years ago and writing about a case that everyone else had seemed to forget.
"Thank you," he said between sobs. "You cared."