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Imprisoned killer tells judge iPhone in court papers not his

Reginald Potts Jr. listens to victims statements during the fourth day of his sentencing hearing Thursday, March 3, 2016 at the Leighton Criminal Court building in Chicago. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool)

Lawyers for Reginald Potts found an iPhone tucked in among papers the convicted killer handed to them in the courtroom this week, the latest twist in Potts’ marathon sentencing hearing on the murder of girlfriend Nailah Franklin.

Potts’ lawyers apparently alerted Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer when court began Thursday that the phone was among papers that Potts returned to them before leaving court Wednesday night. Questioned by the judge, Potts said the phone wasn’t his.

As criminal behavior goes, smuggling a phone was a relatively minor offense among the long list of bad acts prosecutors have laid out during four days of testimony at Potts’ sentencing hearing. Problems with his attorneys aren’t unusual for Potts either. The 38-year-old has burned through several lawyers and has occasionally represented himself in the years between his arrest and his trial in November. This week, prosecutors said Potts attacked prominent defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. when Adam represented Potts in a criminal case in the 2000s.

Potts was found guilty of murdering Franklin after the 28-year-old woman broke up with him in 2007, then dumping her body in a secluded area behind his brother-in-law’s Calumet City video store.

A Highland Park Police officer who investigated Potts in connection with an auto theft case in 2001 testified this week that Potts once called him and threatened to kill the officer’s family. While in prison in the late 1990s, Potts also accumulated a lengthy record of infractions, including sneaking away with pasta cans Potts intended to use as weapons.

Cara Smith, chief of policy for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, who runs the jail, said officials still are investigating how Potts got the phone, and she did not know if he would face additional charges. Potts is searched whenever leaving or returning to the jail, Smith said.

“We’re looking into how it could have happened and who he got [the phone] from,” Smith said. “We have procedures in place to make sure there is no contraband getting into the jail. … This happens very, very rarely given the size of our operation.”

Later Thursday, Franklin’s sisters and mother testified about the pain of losing the bubbly Oprah fanatic, fashionista and “glue” of their tight-knit clan.

“Our family is poorer for her absence,” Lehia Franklin-Acox said of her sister.

The family said their patriarch died from the stress of dealing with his middle daughter’s horrific death.

“He died a broken man with a broken heart,” Franklin-Acox said.

Lehia Franklin Acox, sister of victim Naliah Franklin, weeps as she reads her victim’s statement during the fourth sentencing day of Reginald Potts Jr.(Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool)
Lehia Franklin Acox, sister of victim Naliah Franklin, weeps as she reads her victim’s statement during the fourth sentencing day of Reginald Potts Jr.(Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/Pool)

Potts’ handiwork left Maria Maner with “nothing to kiss and hold onto” when she viewed Franklin’s decomposed body.

Maner said the loss of her daughter left her with sleepless nights and the inability to work.

Franklin-Acox said, “Nailah’s death killed my innocence, my sense of peace and safety, and for a very long time, my ability to dream. And at many times over the last eight years, I have felt like her murder

killed my sanity.”

Reginald Potts’ namesake father also took the stand Thursday, asking the judge for leniency.

The younger Potts’ sentencing hearing will resume on Friday.