Crime

Teen: Adoptive mother put gun to her head, threatened to shoot

TIM CHITWOOD

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

Diana Franklin on the front row talks to friends as defense attorney Kevin Bradley checks his phone behind her.
Diana Franklin on the front row talks to friends as defense attorney Kevin Bradley checks his phone behind her. TIM CHITWOOD/tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

BUTLER, GA. — The teen whose adoptive mother Diana Franklin’s on trial for child cruelty testified Thursday that when she threatened to kill herself to escape her torment, Franklin aimed a gun at her head and said “I’ll do it for you.”

Now a high school senior, the 18-year-old was in Franklin’s custody from 2007 until social workers removed her on May 25, 2012, finding Franklin had been keeping the then-15-year-old locked in a cinderblock shed. Franklin now faces multiple counts of first-degree child cruelty and false imprisonment in Taylor County.

On Thursday the teen recalled that Franklin kept a small-caliber pistol or “pea shooter” in her purse, and one day as they argued, the teen said she would run away. The mother made her call the adoptive father and tell him that, and the father replied she couldn’t take the clothes she was wearing.

“I couldn’t wear anything,” the teen testified. “I told her I was going to kill myself.”

She said Franklin sat her down in the kitchen, got the gun from her purse and put it to her head. She began crying and begged her not to shoot, repeatedly pushing the gun away. Franklin then told her to stop moving the gun because it had a “sensitive trigger.”

She said the confrontation was interrupted when one of Franklin’s three sons walked in and told Franklin, “Mom, you know you could go to jail for that.”

She said Franklin then told her “you’d better be thankful” the son intervened.

“I was scared,” the teen said. “I knew she was capable of anything.” Franklin had told her that she could kill her, bury her on the family’s 73 acres outside Butler, and no one would ever find the body, she said.

The teen also told of being compelled to lie naked on her stomach as Franklin beat her either with the strap or the buckle of a belt. “I was in so much pain,” she said.

Asked whether she screamed, she replied, “If I did, she would start over.”

She recalled being confined in a henhouse where once she threatened aloud to kill Franklin. Franklin wasn’t there, but her husband overheard and told his wife, who responded by repeatedly punching her in the gut and leaving her locked up for three days without food or water.

Under cross-examination by Franklin’s attorney Kevin Bradley, the teen said she’d been in five foster homes between the time she was taken from her birth parents at age 5 and adopted by the Franklins when she was 9. She admitted having temper tantrums, breaking things, stealing and hoarding food. She also acknowledged she would curse Franklin and spit in her face, but added Franklin did the same to her.

Bradley questioned the teen’s reported isolation when the family in 2009 moved from Crawford County, Ga., to Taylor County, where Franklin homeschooled her. She admitted the Franklins did occasionally take her on trips, such as the Civil War re-enactments the couple attended.

Bradley noted the teen had multiple opportunities over the years to tell others of her mistreatment, but didn’t. “Yes, but I was afraid of getting in trouble,” she said. “Nobody would have believed me.”

Also testifying Thursday was a former neighbor who tearfully admitted she called in the anonymous tip that prompted social workers and a sheriff’s deputy to visit the Franklins’ home the day the teen was removed from the couple’s custody.

Dana Hopkins, who since has moved to Alabama, said she had been troubled by the teen’s treatment since November or December 2011, when she and Franklin met to go Christmas shopping in Warner Robins. Franklin first came to her house that day, but said she had to go back by the Franklins’ place to feed the teen.

When they got there, Hawkins sat in the car and watched as Franklin went into the couple’s home, came out with a plate of food, unlocked the cinderblock shed to go in, and locked it again when she came out, the witness said. No one else was around, and the two women afterward were gone for hours on their shopping trip, she said.

Hawkins said Franklin told her of the teen’s being disciplined for stealing food, including being locked in a closet with a Bible, flashlight, bread and water. The witness began to cry as she recalled that, adding Franklin also told her the teen had been foraging for food in a compost heap.

Hawkins tearfully confessed she regretted not acting sooner: “That day we went shopping, I should have gone home and called the authorities,” she said.

A third witness Thursday was Lynn Suggs, a licensed counselor who has been treating the teen.

Suggs said the teen has depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress, suffering flashbacks, nightmares, self-blame and anger. “She’s never been a child,” Suggs said.

The counselor said the teen had “oppositional defiant disorder” when she was under Franklin’s care. The condition makes a child persistently argumentative, angry, bitter and vindictive. Franklin likely worsened that by denying her the medication she’d previously been prescribed, Suggs said.

“Mrs. Franklin did not believe in medication,” Suggs said, adding Franklin also didn’t want the teen to see a psychiatrist, because she didn’t want the daughter questioned if she could not be there.

Were Franklin unable to cope with the teen, she could have sought assistance from Georgia’s Department of Family and Children Services, Suggs said: “She certainly didn’t have a good relationship with DFCS. She did not believe in that system.”

Franklin faces 19 counts of child cruelty, eight counts of false imprisonment and one of aggravated assault. Her trial resumes this morning in the Taylor County courthouse in Butler.

Authorities also have arrested her husband Samuel Franklin, but he has been indicted separately and is not on trial this week.

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