Suspect found guilty in string of robberies
Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 9:42 p.m.
OCALA - A man accused of committing a string of armed robberies in 2007 at various hotels along the I-75 corridor was found guilty Thursday evening of aggravated assault with a firearm, a lesser included offense, and three counts of armed robbery.
The jury's verdict all but guaranteed the 24-year-old will serve 10 years in prison.
Darren L. Franklin faced one count of attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and three counts of armed robbery for holding up three hotels over the course of two consecutive weekends in September 2007.
In all three incidents, Franklin was armed with a .25-caliber semi-automatic, authorities said. Prosecutors said he fired the gun in the direction of a person during one of the robbery attempts.
Each of the armed robbery counts nets a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years in prison, and is punishable by up to life in prison.
During the two-day trial, state prosecutors Robin Arnold and Kelli Hammond tried to convince jurors, through the use of DNA evidence, surveillance videotape and eyewitness testimony, that Franklin was the culprit who stole nearly $800 at the Quality Inn on W. Silver Springs Boulevard, $340 at Best Western on SW 38th Avenue and $1,200 at the Ramada Inn on NW Blichton Road.
In each instance, the suspect had disguised himself with either a "Scream" costume mask, werewolf mask or a hoodie worn tight around his face.
Jurors were shown surveillance videotape from Wal-Mart showing a man purchasing a "Scream" mask the same day the robbery at the Best Western was committed. The man in the video, prosecutors maintained, was Franklin.
The suspect also left behind blue latex gloves and a T-shirt at two of the robbery scenes. A DNA expert testified that prints taken from those materials showed a match with DNA samples taken from Franklin.
A month after the robberies, Franklin was arrested by authorities at his workplace at Rallye Dodge on State Road 200 following tips left on the CrimeStoppers line.
Franklin's father also told detectives at the time that a person shown on surveillance videotape from a separate robbery strongly resembled his son.
In court Thursday, the father, Samuel Franklin, testified that at the time of the robberies, the .25-caliber pistol he kept in his room was missing.
Judge Willard Pope ordered a pre-sentence investigation and set the defendant's sentencing for March 9.
At the beginning of trial, assistant public defender Jerry Burford asked the jurors to consider "inconsistencies" in the state's case and to question whether the discharged firearm was deliberately aimed at anyone. "It could have been fired at the air or on the ground," he said.
Susan Weitzel, who at the time of the robbery was the front desk clerk at the Quality Inn, testified on Wednesday how the suspect, his face partially obscured by a white hoodie, pointed a gun at her and ordered her to hand over everything she had, "or he would shoot me."
" 'I ain't playin'. I will shoot you. I will kill you,' " she recalled the suspect saying.
Her husband, James, testified that he was running after the suspect following the robbery when he saw him "point something at me" and then, heard the "pop of the gun."
In her rebuttal closing argument, Arnold told jurors she didn't have to prove why Franklin, a man with no prior criminal record, chose to commit the robberies, only that he did.
"There is no logical reason why someone like [Darren] Franklin, who has a job at Rallye Dodge, who apparently comes from a good family background, would go do something like this ... I can't tell you why," she said.
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