Tuesday, February 09, 1999

Killer admits guilt, gets life

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Desperate to escape the death penalty, Franklin Saunders pleaded guilty Mondayto charges that he fired two fatal shotgun blasts into his ex-girlfriend's neck.

        In exchange for his plea on the morning his trial was to begin, Mr. Saunders received a life sentence without parole.

        “I wanted to get out of here with my life,” he told The Cincinnati Enquirer in an interview at the Butler County Jail.

        “I felt like I was pushed into a corner and wouldn't have had a fair shot, anyway,” Mr. Saunders said. “I'm not trying to sound like a martyr. I'm truly sorry for what happened. I don't think it's fair what happened to Lisa.”

        Minutes before jury selection was to begin in his Butler County Common Pleas Court trial for the June 9 kidnapping and murder of Lisa Weber, 39, of Fairfield, Mr. Saunders told his lawyers that he wanted to plead guilty.

        Mr. Saunders, 40, of Blue Ash was accused of dragging Ms. Weber into his car in Butler County's Union Township and shooting her in woods 11/2 miles away. Police and Ms. Weber's family said he had stalked her since she moved out of his apartment in May.

        He surrendered to police the next morning.

        On Monday, Mr. Saunders pleaded guilty to aggravated murder, kidnapping and disobeying a court order not to possess a weapon. The three-judge panel of H.J. Bressler, Michael Sage and Patricia Oney imposed a sentence of life without parole in addition to 34 years.

        Ms. Weber's family members said that although they would like to see Mr. Saunders dead, they were pleased with the outcome.

        “I'm very satisfied with the verdict,” said Ms. Weber's mother, Faye Minges of Fairfield. “I want him to suffer for the rest of his life.”

        In court, Mr. Saunders apologized to Ms. Weber's family. But the family would have none of it.

        “We don't believe it's heartfelt,” Ms. Weber's sister, Amy Stewart of Oxford, said during the hearing.

        Mrs. Minges directed a question at him in court.

        “I want to know if he's apologizing for the six years of hell he put my daughter through before he killed her,” she said. Mr. Saunders did not answer.

        In an interview with the Enquirer, Mr. Saunders said he doesn't remember kidnapping and shooting Ms. Weber.

        “I think I went through some kind of blackout,” he said. “I was pretty much mentally deranged a little.”

        He said he suffered an identical blackout when he assaulted his then-wife in 1986 in Adams County. Mr. Saunders, who served three years in prison for that attack, said if he had received psychological treatment then, Ms. Weber's murder might have been avoided.

        “I asked for help and didn't get it,” he said. “I think this could have been headed off.”

        He said he didn't receive a fair psychological evaluation in preparation for his trial and still wants to understand why he assaulted his wife and, 13 years later, killed Ms. Weber.

        Mrs. Minges spoke bitterly of Mr. Saunders after the hearing.

        “This man is completely evil,” she said. “He told her he would kill every member of our family, starting with her two children, if she left him.”

        Ms. Weber's death occurred the day before she was planning to leave for a two-week stay with her aunt in Florida, Ms. Minges said.

        She said Mr. Saunders repeatedly threatened Ms. Weber and acted hostile to her family, even though they initially welcomed him.

        One night, when Ms. Weber's two children were small, Mr. Saunders threw them outside in their pajamas, Mrs. Minges said.

        Mr. Saunders denied threatening anyone.

        He said he was so upset over his breakup with Ms. Weber last year that he was voluntarily committed to the psychiatric unit of Good Samaritan Hospital.

        He said he bought the shotgun the day before killing Ms. Weber because he wanted to commit suicide.

        Mr. Saunders said he had no intention of killing her on June 9 when he pulled into the parking lot of the West Chester pharmacy where she and her 19-year-old son, Justin, worked. After a brief car chase, during which he struck her car, Mr. Saunders pulled her into his vehicle at gunpoint and drove away.

        “I really did go there with the intention of talking to her,” he said.

        Defense attorney Greg Howard said Mr. Saunders has psychological problems stemming from his childhood. Mr. Howard declined to elaborate.

        But Ms. Weber's family vigorously disputed that and praised his parents and other members of his family.

        “He had a good upbringing,” Mrs. Minges said. “They're lovely people. We're still friends with them.”

        Justin Weber said he's relieved the legal process has ended.

        “I feel as if it's a great burden off my chest,” he said. “The loss of my mom still hurts. But now that this is over, it helps a little bit.”

        “Now we know,” said Mrs. Stewart, “that he won't be putting his hands on anybody else.”


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