Attorneys offer closing arguments in murder trial of man accused of killing girlfriend in west Modesto

A prosecutor told a jury Thursday that Tom Franks shot to death his girlfriend because she was going to end their relationship after a series of domestic violence incidents.

“He, Mr. Franks, is the perpetrator of escalating violence against Jacqueline,” Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees argued.

Michael Scheid, Franks’ attorney, argued that his client did not shoot his girlfriend that night, and that the evidence shows he is not guilty.

“There’s no evidence he had a gun at all,” Scheid told the jurors. “And it makes no sense that Mr. Franks did this.”

Franks is on trial, accused of murder in the death of Jacqueline Millan. She was shot outside a west Modesto home about 9:40 p.m. May 4, 2012. The 48-year-old woman died at a hospital six days later.

Closing arguments ended late Thursday afternoon. The jury of 10 women and two men will return this morning to begin deliberations.

Millan was shot while standing near the edge of a driveway of a home in the 1600 block of Vernon Avenue, a few blocks northeast of Paradise and Carpenter roads. Millan and Franks had been renovating the house.

Rees argued that Franks fired a gun three times at Millan, missing her twice. But one bullet struck her head and fragmented in her brain. “It was a small hole but deadly,” the prosecutor said of the gunshot wound.

Investigators did not find the gun used to kill Millan, despite a search of the house and the area. Investigators, however, did not search a garage gutted by a previous fire, because the garage was not structurally sound.

The prosecutor suggested that maybe Franks hid the gun in the garage or dumped the weapon in a septic tank.

Scheid argued that investigators could’ve searched the garage if they had wanted to prove that his client had the gun, and they could’ve drained the septic tank.

“It’s not complicated,” the defense attorney said. “They don’t have the gun, they don’t have the evidence.”

Franks told investigators he went back into the house after he heard gunshots. He said he remained inside until deputies found him and took him into custody two hours after the shooting.

Investigators did not find any gunshot residue on Franks’ skin, and they declined to analyze his clothing because six hours had passed before deputies told him to remove his clothes. Analysts refuse to test any clothing that wasn’t sealed in an evidence bag within four hours after a shooting.

Rees argued that Franks had two hours inside the house to wipe off any gunshot residue.

The defense attorney said that theory is not reasonable. “The reason there’s no GSR is that he didn’t fire the gun,” Scheid told the jury.

But investigators did recover a pistol holster that could have been used to hold a handgun inside or outside someone’s waistband. A neighbor also testified that he saw Franks on a previous occasion with a fake gun that looked real.

The same neighbor testified that he heard Millan arguing with Franks, and that he could see her standing near the driveway. He said he then saw the silhouette of a tall, skinny man running out of an alley toward Millan moments before he heard three shots fired. Then he heard footsteps on gravel leaving the area.

Scheid told the jury that it’s reasonable to believe that Floriberto Aguilar saw the real shooter moments before he fired the gun, and then heard the shooter running away. He argued that Aguilar testified he didn’t hear Franks yelling anymore a few minutes before the shots rang out.

The defense attorney’s theory is that Franks had already gone inside before the shooting occurred.

Initially, Franks told investigators he was asleep in the Vernon Avenue home when the shooting occurred outside and didn’t hear anything, including sirens or deputies investigating the shooting around the home.

After he was booked at the Stanislaus County Jail, he asked to speak to investigators again. He was questioned a second time.

Franks told investigators he and Millan had argued earlier that night at a Paradise Road home. He said he left and went to the Vernon Avenue home. Millan showed up later, he said, banging on his door and accusing him of cheating with another woman.

Franks said a struggle ensued, and Millan was swinging at him on the home’s front porch. The struggle moved to the home’s front yard before Franks bear-hugged her. Franks told investigators he heard a gunshot before he let go of Millan and went back in the house.

The defendant said he last saw Millan walking toward the street. He told investigators he went to sleep and didn’t check on Millan.

The prosecutor argued that Franks’ different accounts show he’s folding lies into information he heard from detectives to avoid conviction. “Mr. Franks’ lies and ridiculous stories are unreasonable,” Rees told the jurors.

The defense attorney agreed with the prosecutor, saying his client’s story is not supported by the evidence. “My client was wrong. He gave a ridiculous story,” Scheid said.

The neighbor saw Millan arguing from near the street and heard Franks yelling from where he was near the garage. But Franks said Millan banged on his door and the struggle ensued on the porch then moved to the front yard when one shot was fired.

Before closing arguments began, testimony concluded with Richard Leo called to the witness stand by the defense. He’s a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and a leading expert on police interrogations.

His research focuses on interrogation training and techniques, psychological coercion and false confessions. Leo told the jury that police interrogations should take place after the majority of an investigation has been conducted.

Detectives should gather enough information to presume the suspect has committed the crime, Leo said. He said interrogations involve pressure and persuasion, and they can be more accusatory than police questioning that typically occurs at the beginning of an investigation.

“Accusations are the foundation of interrogations, in many ways,” Leo testified Thursday morning.

He said the primary goal of an interrogation is for the investigators to get from the suspect an admission and a confession, which comes with a narrative on how the crime was committed and why.

The common interrogation techniques include:

• Accusing the suspect of committing the crime or lying to investigators.

• Confronting the suspect with real evidence or evidence that doesn’t exist.

• Increasing psychological pressure such as the investigator raising his or her voice or denying the suspect a smoke break.

• Motivating the suspect to confess because it’s the right thing to do, because the family will get some closure or it will result in a better outcome in court.

Leo, who has worked as a consultant for police departments, testified that using these interrogation techniques is kind of like a boxer jabbing his opponent. “You’re never going to get to the endgoal of a confession if you can’t break down those denials (from the suspect),” he said on the witness stand.

A police interrogation is for the detectives to get evidence that will help convict the suspect; the goal is not to get to the truth, Leo testified. The law professor also said investigators do not set out to get false confessions, but they do happen.

He said false confessions occur when investigators question a suspect overzealously, poorly or improperly. And juries and the public put more weight on confessions than they do on other evidence in criminal cases, Leo said about his research findings.

During cross-examination, Leo said video recordings of interrogations have reduced the risk of false confessions because the police questioning is monitored. Franks interrogations were recorded on video. He also said that interrogations provide a social benefit, because investigators use interrogations to solve crimes.

Leo testified that he doesn’t have any knowledge of the interrogation training of the investigators in Franks’ case, and he also didn’t speak to the investigators or the defendant. He didn’t say Franks gave a false confession or give any opinion on Franks’ case specifically.