HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - After a full day of testimony, the prosecution has rested in the Lionel Francis capital murder trial. The jury will return at 9 a.m. Friday.
Defense attorney Bruce Gardner told the court the defense may call one witness before closing arguments, but that was still being determined.
Francis is charged with killing his 20-month-old daughter, Alexandria Francis, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. The killing took place in May of 2016 at the Lockwood Court home Francis shared with his girlfriend, Ashley Ross, and their daughter Alexandria.
Ross testified today she had just gotten out of the shower and was getting dressed in the bedroom. The child came in and was playing with the door, opening and shutting it. Then Francis came in.
She testified he didn’t look mad. She was looking the other direction, pulling on a shirt, she testified, when she heard a gun cocked -- and then fired.
The child was shot in the forehead.
She said right after the shooting, Francis told her "Now you'll have to live with what you made me do," and walked out of the room. Ross testified she then demanded to know if Francis planned to kill her as well. She testified he told her that he wasn’t going to kill her, but said he "wasn’t going to have a baby with you either."
Francis denied that account during a recorded interview with police. He denied making any statements to Ross, other than urging her to call 911. The interview recording shows Francis telling police he walked into the bedroom planning to put his gun away under the mattress. But, he said, his daughter came towards him -- wanting to play. Francis said he pulled back the gun - trying to keep it away from her - when it fired.
During Ross’ testimony prosecutors played two phone calls: her 911 call after the shooting and a phone call Francis made to her from jail on the day of their daughter’s funeral. The 911 call was played on a speaker in the courtroom. It lasted several minutes and the sounds of Ross’ screams, anguish and fear reverberated around the courtroom. The jail call included Francis trying to tell Ross that he didn’t shoot their daughter, that the gun went off. An angry Ross told him repeatedly not to insult her intelligence.
Francis gave her a slightly different explanation for why the gun went off. He said his knee – which he’d previously injured and had surgery on – was hurting and he was moving to put the gun away under the mattress, when his knee buckled and the gun fired. Ross angrily rejected the account, pointing out that it’s not common to cock a gun just as you’re putting it away.
A firefighter and a HEMSI EMT testified to scooping up the child and carrying her to an ambulance. The firefighter also testified that when he arrived at the scene Francis was sitting on the curb, calmly smoking a cigarette.
A Huntsville police officer testified that when he arrived, Francis stood up, raised his hands and told the officer, "I invoke my rights."
The prosecution’s last witness, Dr. Valerie Green, a state medical examiner, testified the nature of the child’s wound was consistent with a gun being pressed with force against her forehead and then fired.
If the jury convicts Francis, a sentencing penalty phase will follow. That continues with the same jury and the two sides will argue if Francis should get the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
It takes 10 jurors to recommend a death sentence. But, because the case originated in 2016, the judge has the ability to override the jury recommendation and decide the sentence. The practice of judicial override has since been discontinued in Alabama, but older cases operate under the previous system.