Judge Brian T. Fischer delivered a lesson in justice to four audiences at once in Courtrom 5A Friday: a man who shot a robbery victim to death over a gold necklace; detectives who spent years chasing him down for at least three alleged murders; the victim’s sobbing family; and a class of rapt Hillhouse High School students.
They all showed up for the sentencing of 22-year-old Zachery Cody Franklin—aka Public Enemy #1 in the eyes of New Haven law enforcement—in Superior Court on Church Street. Fischer gave Franklin 65 years for murdering 26-year-old John Claude James during an armed robbery near the intersection of Howard Avenue and Putnam Street on July 29, 2011.
The day was long in coming for the victim’s parents, grandmother, young children, aunt and uncle, who with other relatives filled the wooden benches on one side of the courtroom.
The day was long in coming as well for Detective Wayne Bullock, the lead investigator in the case. He squeezed onto a bench alongside eight or so other New Haven cops, who considered Franklin the deadliest of a small group of shooters they pursued during New Haven’s bloody 2011.
And it was a real-life lesson in the consequences of bad choices on the streets for 15 students in the after-school “Pathways To College” program led by Hillhouse High teachers Jack Paulishen and Marvin Towler. They filled the jury box on a class trip to the courtroom. They sat riveted as Fischer spoke. (Click on the play arrow at the top of the story to watch.)
The judge minced no words as he recounted the “cowardly and senseless” murder and noted that Franklin has been charged with three other murders as well, two in New Haven, one in Waterbury.
“It is obvious to this court that Cody Franklin has to be one of the most if not the most dangerous criminal in the state of Connecticut,” Fischer said.
“He planned out the execution of John Claude James so he could have his gold chain. He gunned down a defenseless 26-year-old man.”
Franklin’s parents had drug problems and had trouble with the law, the judge noted. A grandmother tried to raise him. The judge referred to a remark Franklin made in a presentencing report: “At the age of 15 years old, he grew tired of his grandmother’s rules, and he left his grandmother at that time.”
“Unfortunately, Mr. Franklin, the citizens of this state would have been better if you had followed your grandmother’s rules,” the judge told him.
“Mr. Franklin, prisons are built for convicted murderers like you. I have an obligation to protect society from cold-blooded murderers like you, and I intend to fulfill my obligations.”
He proceeded to give Franklin the maximum sentence for first-degree murder: 60 years. He added 20- and 5-year concurrent sentences for first-degree robbery and carrying a pistol without a permit; and a consecutive 5-year sentence for criminal possession of a pistol. That adds up to 65 years behind bars.
And that doesn’t count any other sentences Franklin will receive if found guilty in the other three alleged murders.
Which means he’ll be away from New Haven for a long time.
Franklin chose not to address the court. His attorney, Larry Hopkins, told the judge the defense still believes the jury reached the verdict in error, engaging in “magical thinking” based on an eyewitness’s “self-conflicting” testimony that failed to match the physical evidence. Hopkins said Franklin will appeal the verdict.
Franklin sat stone-faced as James’ family members, fighting back tears, spoke to the judge of their “devastating” feelings of loss. At one point James’ 9-year-old daughter Saniah moved next to her sobbing mother, placing her arm around her in consolation, as James’ mother told the court: “His life was more precious than gold or silver.”
Franklin’s face offered no hint of a reaction as Rosalind McKinnie, the victim’s aunt, told him: “I forgive you. But you hurt us.”
Franklin did crack a smirk several times during the hour-long court session. He smirked as prosecutor Kevin Doyle (pictured) recalled how Franklin lied about his name when law-enforcement agents found him down south and arrested him at gunpoint for the murder.
That smirk looked familiar to New Haven Detective Bullock as he watched the proceedings. Bullock recalled interviewing Franklin after the arrest.
“He smiled during the whole interview,” recalled Bullock. “He was smirking. He was playing like it was nothing. He had the same affect on his face [as today]. It meant next to nothing to him to take a life.”
Bullock hugged McKinnie (they’re pictured above) as family members and cops celebrated the sentence after leaving court.
“For us this comes full circle. This validates all the hard work done by the detectives,” said Bullock’s boss, Sgt. Tony Reyes, who runs the department’s homicide bureau. “It sends the message that this type of crime will not go unpunished.”
In the hallway outside the courtroom, James’ mother spoke with the Hillhouse kids after the sentencing. She told them her son had attended Hillhouse and urged them all to stay in school. Then she hugged them.