Crime

Jury finds woman guilty on all 28 counts of abusing adopted daughter

TIM CHITWOOD

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

Taylor County Sheriff Jeff Watson handcuffs Diana Franklin after a jury found her guilty Monday of abusing her adopted daughter.
Taylor County Sheriff Jeff Watson handcuffs Diana Franklin after a jury found her guilty Monday of abusing her adopted daughter.

Now Diana Franklin will be the one who’s locked away while someone else decides what she eats.

Sheriff’s deputies took the 48-year-old Taylor County woman into custody Monday after a jury found her guilty of confining her adopted daughter in various outbuildings on family property outside Butler, denying the girl food and comfort, and on one occasion putting a gun to the child's head and threatening to shoot.

She was convicted of 19 counts of first-degree cruelty to children, eight of false imprisonment and one of aggravated assault. The maximum penalty for each count of assault and child cruelty is 20 years in prison; for false imprisonment it’s 10 years.

Were Judge Bobby Peters to give Franklin the maximum on each count and run the sentences consecutively, he could sentence Franklin to 480 years in prison. Peters set the sentencing hearing for 11 a.m. Dec. 8.

After closing arguments Monday in the two-week trial, the jury deliberated about an hour and 45 minutes before reaching its verdict around 2:45 p.m. Franklin showed little emotion as the verdict was read.

Prosecutor Wayne Jernigan in his closing argument told jurors Franklin faked emotions during her testimony, crying “crocodile tears” without actually weeping. “Not one tear came off her cheek,” Jernigan said.

He also told the jury that Franklin chose her words carefully under oath, as if to script answers to attorney’s questions rather than speak freely: “She doesn’t say anything without thinking about it.”

Yet in the end her own words turned against her, as Jernigan and other prosecutors used passages from Franklin’s personal journals to corroborate the testimony of the daughter, who was in Franklin’s custody from age 10 in 2007 to 15 in 2012, when social workers removed her from the 73-acre property at 783 Old Wire Road outside Butler.

It was on this land to which the Franklin family moved in 2009 that Franklin locked the daughter away without food or water, and sometimes without clothing, in buildings that had no plumbing or power. Among those structures was a chicken coop, an outhouse, a cinderblock garage, and a shipping container.

Though Franklin claimed the girl was free to come and go because she was never locked in, District Attorney Julia Slater said Franklin’s journal writing proved otherwise: The mother referred to the outhouse as the daughter’s “new jail” that was “perfect for her” and even drew a smiling face next to the sentence.

“Today (the child) was let out of solitary confinement,” Franklin wrote in another excerpt. In a third, after the girl was locked up for stealing saltine crackers, the mother wrote that “she gets three crackers a day.”

Though Franklin in her testimony said journal references to feeding the girl “bread and water” actually meant bland food like oatmeal and spinach, in her writing she always specified when she meant something other than bread and water, Slater said, adding, “When she says ‘bread and water,’ she means bread and water and nothing else.”

That Franklin padlocked the girl in a cinderblock garage was confirmed not only by witnesses but by Franklin herself, who said she locked it overnight to keep the child safe, Slater told the court.

She noted a handyman’s testifying that when he needed a wrench, Franklin took him to the garage, got a key from inside her house, unlocked the padlock, told the daughter she was bringing someone in, then padlocked the door again as she left.

One of Franklin’s journals confirmed the girl’s story that Franklin once put a pistol to her head, Slater said.

The daughter said that when she threatened to commit suicide, Franklin pointed the gun and said, “I’ll do it for you,” before one of her three sons entered the room and interrupted the confrontation.

In her journal, Franklin thanked God for keeping her from doing something “stupid” with the gun, “saving me from what could have been a very ugly and painful outcome.”

Franklin’s courtroom explanation for what happened made no sense, Slater said: Franklin testified that when the girl threatened suicide, Franklin gave her a gun-safety lesson in which she showed the child how to use the pistol.

In other journal entries, Franklin referred to “lashing” the girl instead of “spanking” and mentioned the child had “stripes” on her back, which confirmed the daughter’s testimony that Franklin made her strip and beat her with a belt buckle, Slater said.

The daughter, now an 18-year-old high school senior, testified to other torments suffered in Franklin’s custody, such as being shocked with electronic collars designed for training dogs and being tied by the neck to a tree when the mother told her she was gulping food like a dog and would be treated like one.

Slater told jurors Franklin’s later journal entries showed fear and guilt, as she wrote that the family was guilty of “doing awful mean things” to the girl, actions for which they “must be judged,” and asked God to show mercy and not send the adoptive mother and father to jail.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Kevin Bradley reminded jurors of testimony from Franklin and other witnesses who said the daughter chose to live in the cinderblock garage instead of the two-bedroom home her adoptive parents shared with three sons.

The girl had multiple chances to tell people she was being abused, but did not, Bradley noted: She once ran away and was found by a sheriff’s deputy who drove her home, yet she never told him she’d been beaten, nor showed him any bruises or other marks.

She claimed she never spoke up because she was frightened of enduring further punishment, yet according to testimony she was not afraid to spit in Franklin’s face and curse her, Bradley said.

Of claims Franklin made the girl go three days without water, Bradley said: “People don’t do that without dying.” And he pointed out that despite all the suffering the child was supposed to have endured, prosecutors had no doctor testify about the girl’s health.

Bradley also noted that after social workers took the girl from her parents’ custody on May 25, 2012 — exactly five years after her adoption — the daughter started a Facebook page called the “Chicken Coop Girl” and announced plans to write a book.

“She continues to revel in the attention,” the attorney said.

She earned it, Jernigan countered: “With all the hell she went through, she ought to write 10 books.”

Franklin’s husband Samuel Franklin also has been arrested and charged, but he was indicted separately and is to be tried later.

His defense attorney has sought a change of venue because of the publicity the wife’s trial has generated.

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