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Chenango County man guilty in adopted son's murder, inspired by 'Manchester by the Sea'


ANTHONY BORRELLI   | pressconnects.com

The trial of a Chenango County man accused with his wife of killing their adopted son, then setting their home on fire to cover up the evidence, ended with a guilty verdict Friday as jurors took less than two hours to decide.

Ernest Franklin, 36, faces up to 25 years to life in state prison when he's sentenced for felony counts of second-degree murder, third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence. The trial began Feb. 27, and jurors in Chenango County Court spent an hour and 40 minutes deliberating before reaching a verdict.

The Chenango County District Attorney's Office argued Franklin and his wife, Heather, hatched a plot to kill their 16-year-old disabled son, Jeffrey, after watching the Oscar-winning film "Manchester by the Sea" the night of Feb. 28, 2017.

The film tells the story of a man who accidentally sets a fire that kills his children. He wasn’t prosecuted.

The Chenango County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the case, announced the guilty verdict Friday afternoon on Twitter:

During the trial, District Attorney Michael Ferrarese told jurors Jeffrey had been deaf, mute and lived with behavioral issues that created a stressful home environment for his adopted parents that helped motivate the crime. By February 2017, Heather was also pregnant with the couple's first biological child.

Investigators believed the fire began in a wood stove on the southern end of the Franklin home in Guilford. The vent pipe was in good working order, Ferrarese said, and it's suspected that Ernest Franklin left the stove door open so the fire could spread.

Ferrarese said there were "100 percent burns" to Jeffrey's body, but there were no signs of soot or smoke in the boy's wind pipe or lungs. The prosecutor argued Jeffrey died as a result of "violent means" before the fire started. 

Defense lawyer Veronica Gorman countered that it was possible Jeffrey was alive during the fire, and there was no evidence of accelerants at the fire scene.

The prosecution's theory of a plot between the Franklins was too "criminally sophisticated," she said, for a "salt of the earth" man like her client. 

Heather Franklin is also under indictment on murder, arson and evidence-tampering charges. Her case is awaiting trial, and she has been out of jail on bail since April 2017.

2019 Mar 8