Tracen Franklin is going to die in prison, and the mother and grandmother of the young man he murdered believe justice will be served.
A Douglas County judge on Friday sentenced Franklin, 20, to life with no chance of parole after his conviction in the beating death of Bobby Tillman at a party nearly two years ago. He is one of four young men charged in a case that drew wide attention.
Franklin struggled to control his emotions as he pleaded for an eventual chance at parole and apologized to Tillman’s family.
“I can’t look you in the eye and not feel your pain. I want you to know I am sincerely sorry,” Tillman said, looking at the victim’s mother, Monique Rivarde .
Tillman’s grandmother, Juanita Laurent, sternly chastised Franklin.
“His name was Bobby Maurice Tillman. It’s a name, Mr. Franklin, I never want you to forget,” she said. “I don’t want Mr. Franklin to ever get out of jail. I don’t want him to hurt another family… I pray to God to have mercy on your soul.”
Franklin had faced a possible death sentence before the jury that quickly convicted him a week ago deadlocked on the penalty. That took the death penalty off the table and left it to Judge William McClain to decide whether Franklin would have any shot at parole.
“Judge, whatever you decide I accept,” said Franklin.
Afterward, Rivarde said of the no-parole sentence, “It gave my son justice but I will always be in pain because my son was murdered.”
Franklin and the others were charged in the Nov. 6, 2010, punching and stomping attack on Tillman as he sat on the trunk of a car amid dozens of teenagers leaving a house where there had been a party.
Another man charged, Emanuel Boykins, pleaded guilty last spring to avoid a possible death sentence and is serving a life sentence with a possibilty of parole after 30 years. Quantez Devonta Mallory and Horace Damon Coleman also are charged with murder but their cases are pending. Neither has entered a plea, and prosecutors do not plan to seek the death penalty in their cases.
Franklin fought the murder charge despite confessing to police that he attacked Tillman. Throughout a six-week-long trial, Franklinsat stoically, rarely looking up.
Prosecutors cited the viciousness of Franklin’s actions in seeking a death sentence in his case. The jury deliberated almost 2 1/2 days on his punishment without reaching an agreement.
Juror Brenda Grissom attended Friday’s sentencing and said she was one of two jurors who favored a life sentence with the possibility of parole. She said some of the other 10 argued that they were showing Franklin mercy by not sentencing him to death.
She said the crime did not rise to the level of life without parole or death.
“Tracen Franklin was wrong,” said Grissom. “For me, did that mean life without parole? No. No question at all. None.”
She complained that one of the other jurors had violated the judge’s admonition against talking about the case outside the jury room. Just before the jury was dismissed, she said, one returned from a break to report that a bailiff had told him the judge would likely sentence Franklin to the harshest non-death punishment if they could not agree.
“It shut us down,” said Grissom, adding she couldn’t remember the name of the juror or the bailiff.
Jerry Word, one of Franklin’s attorneys, said after the sentencing that “the issues she has raised bears investigation.”
The judge, also reached after the sentencing, declined to comment. District Attorney David McDade said his office will investigate Grissom’s allegations. But he also noted that she had visited Franklin at the jail on Tuesday, four days after the jury was dismissed.
“That has caused us to be concerned about what her role really was in this case,” McDade said.
Grissom said she only wanted Franklin to be able to “put a face” on one of the jurors who held out for the possibility of parole.