HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – At the trial of her longtime boyfriend, the man who killed their daughter, Ashley Ross had to relive the worst day of her life..
And through tears and shocking phone recordings, she stood her ground, describing the day 20-month-old Alexandria Francis was shot and her certainty that Lionel Francis had done it on purpose.
The jury came back with a recommendation of a death sentence for Francis Tuesday afternoon.
After the jury’s verdict, Madison County Assistant District Attorney Tim Douthit praised Ross’s strength.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of people doing this job, that poor woman is the cream of the crop,” Douthit said. “We pulled her out of here, having just had a baby Tuesday evening, still wearing her hospital bracelets on Thursday morning, she comes, has to leave her new child, has to testify about the brutal murder of her old child.”
Francis was convicted of capital murder on Friday. The shooting was on May 27, 2016, at the family’s home on Lockwood Court in Huntsville.
The jury’s recommendation for a death sentence only serves as guidance for Madison County Circuit Judge Ruth Ann Hall. The judge will get the last word on sentencing in the case. The jury’s recommendation also marks the first time in 11 years a Madison County jury has recommended a death sentence.
Benito Albarran was the last such defendant. He was convicted of killing Huntsville Police Department officer Daniel Golden in 2005. The trial was in 2008 and Albarran hanged himself in prison in 2014.
Francis’ trial was relatively short. Most of last week was taken up with jury selection, and all of the testimony and evidence was presented Thursday. The closing arguments and verdict were completed on Friday. But Ross stood out as a witness — for the tragic role she was forced to play in the case, and for her fury at Francis for an act that seemed to come with no warning.
She testified Francis had never been abusive and was a devoted father. She said they had a good relationship, though it was strained over his failure to find a job. She described the day of the shooting as normal. She got off work from Huntsville Hospital, they visited a family member, got groceries and then went home to their house on Lockwood Court. At home, Francis watched their daughter while Ross showered. She finished the shower, was putting on lotion and getting dressed when Alexandria came in the room. The child began playing with the bedroom door, opening and closing it, as Ross testified she liked to do.
Francis came in the room, Ross said, and she began putting on her shirt facing away from the door. She told jurors she heard the gun cocked then fired. Alexandria had been shot once in the forehead. Testimony from a medical examiner said the nature of the wound meant that Francis had placed his .22 pistol hard against the child’s forehead and then pulled the trigger. She testified Francis told her, “Now you’ll have to live with what you made me do.”
What happened next was played back in court last Thursday. Ross and the jury had to listen to her terrified 911 call. Her screams shook the courtroom. They also listened to the one call Francis made to her from jail. It came on the day of Alexandria’s funeral, though Francis seemed unaware of that. He tried to tell her the shooting was an accident. Ross furiously rejected those claims, demanding that he stop insulting her intelligence and pointing out a person would not cock a gun if they intended to put it away.
“Having the jury hear from her, being the mother of this case, being the only witness was extremely, extremely powerful,” Douthit said.
Ross had a son a week ago. She testified Tuesday about the loss of her daughter, her sadness. She came from a doctor’s appointment to testify.
“She has always told us from the word go, that she wants justice,” Douthit said. “She’s not out for the death penalty or life without parole, or anything like that, she feels that Alexandria needed to get her day in court.”
The jury deliberated just two hours Tuesday before announcing their call for a death sentence. The jury’s 11-1 vote for a death sentence for Lionel Francis came exactly three years after his daughter died from her gunshot wound.