Six years after being arrested and charged with 10 counts of murder and 1 count of attempted murder, the court proceedings regarding Lonnie David Franklin Jr. – “The Grim Sleeper” – have begun. The lengthy duration between his arrest, charging, and the beginning of the trial is due in large part to the span of time over which is alleged crimes took place.

“The Grim Sleeper,” a former garbage collector and garage attendant, is alleged to have murdered his first victim all the way back in 1985. He earned the moniker “The Grim Sleeper” because his alleged killings came in small groups that were 13 apart. “Sleeping” is a term used by criminologists to describe a period of inactivity in between a serial killer’s murders.

His alleged victims were all women with ages ranging from 15 to 35, and he has plead not guilty to the charges.

Murder is covered under California Penal Code 187 PC and is described as “the unlawful killing of a human being or fetus with malice aforethought.” The first part of this description is pretty straightforward, though the term “malice aforethought” can be a little misleading. When someone acts with “malice aforethought,” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they had any malice, hatred, or anger directed at the victim before the time of the killing. What “malice aforethought” means is that a person “with wanton disregard for human life, does an act that involves a high degree of probability that it will result in death.” An example of this would be someone taking a gun into a crowd, closing their eyes and spinning around while firing the weapon randomly. Obviously, this act has a high probability of killing someone, and in order to perform such an act, a person would have to not care that they could kill someone. Whether the individual in the example felt anything toward their victims, or even intended to kill someone is irrelevant.

Penalties for murder convictions in California include: 25-years to life in California state prison or life without parole.

All 10 counts of murder in The Grim Sleeper case fall into the category of “special circumstances” as outlined by California Penal Code 190.2 PC. The special circumstances include, but are not limited to: murder for financial gain, a prior murder conviction, multiple murder convictions, murder by bomb or destructive device and murder of a police officer or firefighter. Because The Grim Sleeper’s murder charges fall under the umbrella of “special circumstances,” if convicted, his potential penalties will include the death sentence.