A Washington couple who transformed their home into a prison where they kept food under lock and key were found guilty Friday of homicide by abuse for starving their oldest son to death, according to reports.
A Clark County Superior Court jury deliberated for about four hours before finding 54-year-old Felicia Adams-Franks and 58-year-old Jesse Franks guilty on all counts.
15-year-old Karreon Franks had acute autism and could barely see or speak. While his two younger brothers were frequently punished for “stealing” food from their parent’s refrigerator, prosecutors said Karreon could only ask for help using one of his few phrases: “eat, eat, eat.”
When Adams-Franks and Franks ignored him, Karreon left claw marks on his own throat in a desperate bid to communicate his hunger, prosecutors said.
The teenager weighed only 61 pounds when his parents brought him to a Vancouver hospital on Nov. 27, 2020. He had lost nearly 50% of his body weight after getting cut off from school meals during the pandemic.
Adams-Franks and Franks each gave tearful testimony earlier in the trial insisting that they didn’t mean to hurt Karreon, but Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Laurel Smith told the jury during her closing argument not to fall for their seeming remorse.
“The defendants were not crying when Karreon was wasting away in front of them, begging for food,” she said. “Crying on the stand, when you’re on the hook for murder, does not excuse your actions.”
Adams-Franks and Franks kept plenty of food in the locked garage of their home but refused to provide more than meager meals, when they fed the three sons at all.
The couple collected $69,000 a year for caring for the three boys, who Adams-Franks had adopted from her half-sister, but lost much of the money at a nearby casino, testimony showed.
Attorneys for the defendants made a final-hour push for a mistrial, saying the two surviving brothers, both now in high school, had a previously unknown financial motive to testify harshly: They have filed notice that they plan to sue Washington state officials for $55 million for allowing their placement in the home.
Both sides professed ignorance of the potential lawsuit until it was reported by news outlets this week.
Judge Suzan Clark denied the motion after one of the brothers testified remotely that he didn’t understand the lawsuit notice paperwork but had signed on at the behest of his biological mother.
Defense attorneys noted that Karreon had food in his belly at the time of death, saying his parents had put him on a diet of rice and mashed potatoes because he risked aspirating on more solid foods.
Adams-Franks had scheduled a doctor’s visit for Karreon on Nov. 11, but he missed it because she was recovering from a heart attack and had her own check-up that day. They rescheduled for Nov. 30, but Karreon died three days beforehand.
“That’s not the behavior of someone who doesn’t care if he lives or dies,” defense attorney Alyosha McClain told the jury.
The parents also were found guilty of second-degree criminal mistreatment of their two other sons. The boys testified that their mother and father beat and strangled them.
Another defense attorney, James Sowder, said that physical discipline is not illegal in Washington. He noted that a Child Protective Services worker had visited the home a week before Karreon’s death, but found no evidence of an emergency.
Smith, the prosecutor, said the worker gave the couple the benefit of the doubt and believed their outward appearance as caring parents, but urged the jury to see through the illusion.
“Actions speak louder than words,” she said.