HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — Even 18 years after high school student Jeffrey Franklin murdered his parents and attacked three of his siblings with a hatchet, his writings – collected by investigators after his arrest – still have the power to shock.
Madison County District Attorney Rob Broussard – then an assistant DA – prosecuted Franklin. It was a death penalty case, but it never went to trial, as Franklin entered a guilty plea on the eve of the trial. The murders took place at the family’s home on Camelot Drive in south Huntsville on March 10, 1998.
“If we didn’t have this material in front of us, I think we’d just have to speculate,” Broussard said. “But really when you absorb this material, you’re left with the feeling that there is evil present, and he is evil.
“There’s a fair amount of writing having to do with kind of planning the crime, and even after, even after the crime, of what he intended to do.”
The Franklin case has drawn renewed attention because he is eligible for parole beginning in June.
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Franklin, who was 17 at the time of the murders, pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder. He received five life sentences.
No hearing date has been set, according to state records, but under Alabama law a person serving a life term is parole eligible after serving 15 years in prison.
Broussard and retired Chief Assistant DA Jim Accardi prepared for a trial, in part, by poring over Franklin’s writings and drawings found stuffed in a speaker in his bedroom after his arrest. Franklin’s mother’s body was found in the same room.
Broussard described the writings as “the contents” of Franklin’s head in the run-up to the murders that took place at a home on Camelot Drive.
“In this material, there’s meticulous planning, about how he’s going to kill his parents, even, even tactically,” Broussard said, “‘I know Dad will be home at this time and I’m going to be, I’ll wait by the front door, behind the little hutch, and I’ll hit him with a hammer. Mom will be out on a walk, when she comes back I’ll have the radio playing loudly, I’ll call Mom in the room and ask her what’s on the agenda for today, then I’ll kill her, and what about the brothers and sisters. Well, I’ll take them, I’ll strangle my little brother in this room and I’ll lure my other little brother into this room and strangle him. Then my sister I will rape her then I will finish her off.’
“And, it’s pretty chilling. All the way down to, ‘Even if they do catch me, I will plead insanity, and fool those stupid judges and prosecutors.’”
The writings are also marked by an apparent fascination with the occult.
“Devil worship-based,” Broussard said. “Very violent. Overtones of a sexual nature throughout the material. There are religious themes, sort of anti-God, kind of theme that runs through it.
“I mean, the predominance, the predominant theme here, really is, that of Satanic worship, as you read through this material. And, very violent.”
Retired Huntsville Police Department investigator Mac McCutcheon, now a state representative, handled the Jeffrey Franklin investigation. He was among the first to the crime scene.
“There was just a massive amount of… destruction and abuse to the family,” he said. “We had another officer there and we were trying to secure the scene, as well as get HEMSI and medical attention paramedics in for the kids, because the siblings were still alive. “
McCutcheon said based on the crime scene, Franklin killed his mother, Cynthia, first, stabbing her with a “rat-tail file.” He then attacked his sister, who was 14, with a hatchet, slashing at her throat and clubbing her.
His father, Gerald Franklin, was attacked with a sledgehammer as he entered the house. Franklin’s two younger brothers, around ages 9 and 6, were then attacked, both had wounds to their throat and head injuries, apparently from the hatchet.
A neighbor girl was stopping by for a visit, when she spotted Franklin coming out the back door, with blood on him, McCutcheon recalled. She ran home and the police were called.
“He never articulated anything as far as my parents, ‘I’m tired of them nagging me, I’m tired,’” Broussard said of the writings. “He never articulates a reason, other than ‘one by one, they must die.’”
Franklin was spotted later that night at Ditto Landing. He led police on a brief chase before crashing in a family’s yard in south Huntsville.
McCutcheon said Franklin was shirtless and had upside down cross markings on his torso when he was brought in for the interview.
He said Franklin was “up and down” in the interview but didn’t volunteer much. At one point the investigator drew a diagram of the Franklin family’s home. McCutcheon said he sat close to Franklin and asked him to point out where he’d last seen his family members.
“He started at the house and he took the pencil out of my hand and he just started drawing on the paper, just a circle, all the way around the house,” McCutcheon said. “And he just went around and around and around and then at that point he put the pencil down and that’s when he got verbally abusive and stood up and shouted at me.”
That ended the interview.
McCutcheon said as part of the investigation, he learned that Franklin had likely been up for three days before the killings. Franklin had also been part of a group of teens who were abusing the Ritalin they’d been prescribed. Franklin had been given Ritalin to help control an attention deficit problem, but his dosages had been increased a number of times, according to his attorney.
Robert Tuten, who represented Franklin in the run-up to his scheduled trial, said Franklin was abusing Ritalin, snorting three or four pills at a time. Franklin’s mother kept the pills in a lockbox, but Tuten said Franklin had figured out how to take out the hinge pins, remove the pills and replace them with saccharine tablets without his mother noticing.
Tuten said a blood test done twelve days after Franklin’s arrest showed ten-times the normal dose of Ritalin. Tuten said the Ritalin was a major factor in the crime.
“Well, it pushed him into a total psychosis, he was crazy,” Tuten said.
DA Broussard said he’s familiar with the Ritalin argument.
“You hear, ‘Ritalin abuse — that produced this horrible result,’” Broussard said. And I’ve pondered it for 25 years, and I will admit that certain substance abuse will exacerbate what is residing in somebody.”
He said it’s not common to see drug abuse produce the results seen in the Franklin case.
“But I will admit I think it, I think it kind of greases the skids, so to speak,” Broussard said. “When somebody is, when somebody of that nature is amped up on something, it’s a, it’s a bad deal. It’s a powder keg.”
Along with drug abuse, Franklin’s writings point to a darker side. McCutcheon described as Satanism.
“He just felt like that he was doing what Satan, who at that particular time, based on his writings, was his god,” McCutcheon said. “He was doing what Satan wanted him to do.”
But Tuten said he deosn’t believe the writings prove that.
“I did not think he was actually devil-worshipping,” Tuten said. “His family was very staunch Catholics, and I think he was doing that out of rebellion, in an effort to make his parents mad. And I don’t there was anything else to it, other than that.”
Broussard said the writings contain a Satanic and anti-God themes, along with descriptions and drawings of sexual violence.
“From my experience it’s unique,” he said. “I mean I know this exists, and I know it’s out there, but not normally do we see this connected to such a horrific series of murders.”
Franklin became a Christian sometime after his arrest, McCutcheon said.
Tuten said Franklin was remorseful and with the drugs out of his system, he was stunned by what had happened. He said Franklin had been a troubled, apparently suicidal teen. Franklin was under a psychologist’s care before the killings and he’s been in a mental health unit for most of his time in prison, Tuten said.
“He was a troubled teenager, that he had some deep-rooted psychological issues, some psychological problems that were probably hereditary,” Tuten said. “He had sort of slipped through the cracks, as far as being able to get the proper help. A lot of people in his life had missed some significant warning signs, about his conditions.”
In a 2013 letter to then-Madison County Judge Loyd Little, who sentenced Franklin, Franklin asked that he be given credit for the three years he’d spent in the Madison County Jail, as the court had originally ordered. The credit would move up his parole hearing date, Franklin wrote.
He added a post-script to the letter.
“I’m not really a bad man,” he wrote. “I didn’t mean to do what I did. It just happened. I have a hard time.”
For his part, Broussard said for the attacks that left his parents dead, Franklin should never be released from prison.
“But you look at somebody who’s capable of not only that, there’s my 6-year-old brother, there’s my 8-year-old brother, and I’m going to hack ‘em to pieces if I can,’” Broussard said. “And, it was a miracle they weren’t killed and one of his sisters. You think about three siblings, you’re the oldest in the family and you are capable of viciously attacking your 6-year-old brother and almost killing him.
“That’s, that’s unfathomable to me and look, as far as his, as far as his spiritual well-being, I don’t sit here and wish him any ill will, but that’s beside the point. The point is, what he’s capable of, what he did, and he’s exactly where he needs to be.”