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Ernest Franklin murder trial: What we know about Chenango County teen's death


ANTHONY BORRELLI   | pressconnects.com

The murder trial for Ernest Franklin has ended in a guilty verdict. He, along with his wife Heather Franklin, are accused of setting a fire in their Guilford home in order to cover up the killing of their 16-year-old adopted son.

Jurors deliberated one hour and 40 minutes before announcing the verdict for Ernest Franklin in Chenango County Court. On Feb. 27, the prosecution and the defense delivered their opening statements about what each side believes the evidence proves or fails to prove.

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

Here is a look at what we know about the case:

What the charges say

The indictment charges Ernest Franklin and his wife Heather with felony counts of second-degree murder, third-degree arson and tampering with physical evidence.

Prosecutors allege the Franklins intentionally caused Jeffrey Franklin's death by "violent means," then set a fire in order to prevent evidence of the killing from being discovered.

If convicted, they face a maximum penalty of 25 years to life in state prison. 

Heather Franklin's case remains pending.

Jeffrey Franklin's death investigated

The body of Jeffrey Franklin, 16, was found after firefighters extinguished a blaze that ripped through the Franklin home at 457 State Highway 8 in the Town of Guilford.

A neighbor called 911 around 1:14 a.m. on March 1, 2017 to report the fire, after Ernest Franklin allegedly knocked on her door. Prosecutors allege the fire was set sometime after midnight in a wood stove, with the stove door left open.

Jeffrey Franklin was lying in his bed at the time of the fire. Prosecutors argue an autopsy determined he died before the fire was set, since there was no evidence of smoke or soot in his windpipe or lungs.

Motive inspired by Oscar-winning film

Acting Chenango County District Attorney Michael Ferrarese argues Ernest Franklin and his wife, Heather Franklin, hatched the plot to kill their adopted son after watching the Oscar-winning film "Manchester by the Sea" the night of Feb. 28, 2017.

"Manchester by the Sea" tells the story of a man who accidentally sets a fire that kills his children. He wasn’t prosecuted.

During the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26, 2017, Casey Affleck won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of the father of those who died in the fire, while director Kenneth Lonegran took home an Oscar for best original screenplay.

Defense disputes prosecution theory

Ernest Franklin's defense lawyer Veronica Gorman argues that her client and his wife had a very close relationship with Jeffrey, and never regarded him simply as their adopted son.

Gorman says the prosecutor's theory of an alleged murder scheme was too "criminally sophisticated" for a "salt of the earth" person such as Ernest Franklin.

The defense also disputes conclusions in autopsy reports, which don't label Jeffrey's death a homicide and that evidence from burning combustibles was found in his system.

The path of the fire

The District Attorney says the fire began in the southern side of the house, moved north along the ceiling/attic space, then dropped flames into Jeffrey's room.

Investigators estimate the fire traveled over 40 feet from the origin point to where Jeffrey was sleeping. 

Suspects went in different directions

After allegedly setting the fire, as Ernest Franklin told police, he was away from the house chasing down the family’s dogs.

Meanwhile, Heather Franklin allegedly drove into Norwich and surrounding areas.

She stopped at the Walmart in Norwich, returned to the vicinity near the Franklin home and lingered from 12:42 to 12:46 a.m., then drove to Price Chopper in Sidney for about 10 minutes, according to the District Attorney.

Then, she drove around Bainbridge and Coventry, before returning to the fire scene by 2:18 that morning.

2019 Feb 27