Jury: Man guilty of voluntary manslaughter for shooting girlfriend

A jury on Friday found a man guilty of voluntary manslaughter for shooting to death his girlfriend during an argument outside a west Modesto home.

Tom Franks, 46, faces a maximum sentence of 37 years in prison for the death of Jacqueline Millan. That maximum sentence includes additional time for using a gun, committing the crime while out on bail and having a previous conviction on two counts of robbery.

Deputy District Attorney Annette Rees said Millan’s family was satisfied with the verdict because it means Franks still faces a lengthy prison sentence. Though investigators never found the gun used to kill Millan, the prosecutor felt the jury had enough evidence to prove Franks shot his girlfriend.

“It happened during an argument. That’s voluntary manslaughter,” Rees said in the courthouse hallway.

Michael Scheid, Franks’ attorney, argued that his client did not shoot Millan. He said the missing murder weapon should have played a bigger role in the jury’s decision, and choosing not to find his client guilty of second-degree murder shows the jury was skeptical of the prosecution’s case.

“It was probably a compromise, with the verdict,” Scheid said about the jury’s decision. “They must have had some doubt.”

Nevertheless, the defense attorney felt the jury did the best it could and probably would have liked to have seen more evidence. He argued in the trial that a neighbor spotted another man running toward Millan moments before the shooting, and investigators never found any gunshot residue on Franks.

Millan was shot about 9:40 p.m. May 4, 2012, while standing near the edge of a driveway at a home the couple had been renovating in the 1600 block of Vernon Avenue, a few blocks northeast of Paradise and Carpenter roads. The 48-year-old woman died at a hospital six days later.

The neighbor testified he heard Millan arguing with Franks and could see her standing near the driveway. He then heard three shots. He said he saw the silhouette of a tall, skinny man running out of an alley toward Millan shortly before he heard the gunfire.

The prosecutor told the jury Franks fired a gun three times at Millan, missing her twice, from where he stood near the garage. But one bullet struck her head and fragmented in her brain.

Ultimately, Franks told investigators that 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 the 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 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 her.

The jury of 10 women and two men began deliberations Friday morning and reached a verdict about 3:30 p.m. But the judge sent the jurors back to the jury room because they did not have a unanimous verdict on the gun enhancement.

One juror said she did not agree that Franks used a gun during the crime, even though a forensic pathologist testified that Millan died from a single gunshot wound. There was no evidence indicating Millan died any other way.

The jury returned to the courtroom about 10 minutes later with a unanimous verdict on the gun enhancement.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova directed Franks to return to the courtroom Tuesday. The defendant’s sentencing hearing will likely be scheduled then.