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Reginald Potts Found Guilty of Murdering Nailah Franklin

By Erica Demarest | November 10, 2015 10:55am | Updated on November 10, 2015 8:09pm
 Reginald Potts (l.) is charged with murdering Nailah Franklin (r.).
Reginald Potts (l.) is charged with murdering Nailah Franklin (r.).
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Cook County Sheriff's Office; Facebook

COOK COUNTY CRIMINAL COURTHOUSE — A Cook County jury on Tuesday found Reginald Potts guilty of murdering Nailah Franklin.

The 28-year-old pharmaceutical rep went missing in September 2007 and turned up dead nine days later, her body badly decomposed in a wooded area in suburban Calumet City. Prosecutors charged Potts, a man she briefly dated, with the murder, arguing he stalked, harassed and threatened Franklin in the weeks prior to her death.

The jury reached its decision after two hours of deliberation Tuesday evening.

"We would like to thank everyone who has supported us through this long process," Franklin's family said in a statement read by Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez. "We are especially grateful for the dedicated efforts of all who have worked to ensure justice for Nailah."

Relatives declined to speak with press Tuesday night.

Potts, 38, faces a natural life prison sentence when he is sentenced by Cook County Judge Thomas Gainer in the coming weeks.

Nailah Franklin's relatives gather behind County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez (in blue), who reads a statement on their behalf. DNAinfo/Erica Demarest

According to court testimony, Franklin was last seen alive on Sept. 18, 2007, standing with Potts inside her University Village condo building. She was reported missing on Sept. 19, and her body was found dumped behind Potts' brother-in-law's video store in suburban Calumet City on Sept. 27, 2007.

Less than two weeks before she went missing, Potts left Franklin a voicemail on Sept. 7, 2007, claiming "I will erase your a--. You will disappear," Assistant State's Attorney Mark Shlifka said during his closing statement Tuesday.

When Franklin's body was finally found, she was naked and so badly decomposed that she could only be identified through dental records. She had been "erased," just like Potts promised, Shlifka said.

During the 10-day trial, prosecutors painted Potts as arrogant and narcissistic. They laid out for jurors his past history of domestic violence with other women, and shared derogatory emails and voicemails he sent Franklin. Witnesses said Potts often skulked near Franklin's home.

Defense attorneys were quick to point out that no one knows exactly what happened to Franklin. There's no DNA or fingerprint evidence linking Potts to the murder, and he has long maintained his innocence.

The state's case "completely depends on forced conclusions," Assistant Public Defender Crystal Marchigiani said during her closing remarks. "There is absolutely no physical evidence linking Reginald Potts to the murder of Nailah Franklin."

Assistant State's Attorney Maria McCarthy argued during her rebuttal that "circumstantial evidence alone is enough to convict someone." She used the example of snow: If snow covers the ground in the morning, one can assume it snowed overnight. A person doesn't need to see snow falling to know it happened, she said.

According to court testimony, Franklin became upset when she learned Potts lied about seeing multiple women and having children. Franklin emailed several people a news article about Potts' past legal woes. In retaliation, Potts threatened to release a sex tape he had allegedly made with Franklin.

Franklin had been trying to get a restraining order against Potts, Shlifka said, and told a friend, "If I go missing, he did it."

Prosecutors shared an email Franklin sent to Potts on Sept. 10: "You are crazy," she wrote. "You hit women. You are extremely dangerous. You are a bully, but you are not going to bully me. You're messing with the wrong chick this time."

Nailah Franklin. Photo: Facebook

Prosecutors claim Potts murdered Franklin on Sept. 18 and dumped her body in Calumet City later that day. To cover his tracks, Potts held on to Franklin's cell phone and texted responses to any incoming texts or voicemails "to keep Nailah alive in everyone else's mind," Shlifka said.

A friend who received a text during that time period testified that "everything about it was wrong," Shlifka said. The sender called the friend "girlie" and referred to "lunches" as "meetings" — neither of which Franklin would ever do, according to court testimony. The text also mentioned traveling west of Oak Lawn for work, but Oak Lawn was the western boundary of Franklin's coverage area, Shlifka said.

Cellphone-tower pings show that Franklin' and Potts' phones were together on the afternoon and evening of Sept. 18, 2007 — traveling from the Near West Side to Calumet City and back.

Marchigiani, for her part, said it was "pure speculation" that anyone but Franklin used Franklin's phone. She also noted that while authorities can track a phone's service area, that area could be miles wide, and police "cannot pinpoint" an exact locale.

According to defense attorneys, Potts was in the southern suburbs visiting his uncle on Sept. 18. He was stranded in the area for some time because he and his uncle argued, and Potts was stranded. Franklin, meanwhile, grew up in the area and still had family there.

"Is is strange that she went out there? Not at all," Marchigiani said. "Is it strange that Reginald [Potts] went out there? Not at all."

The defense also argued that while Potts may have had an abusive history with other women, his relationship with Franklin was never abusive or violent.

Marchigiani said police only ever set their sights on Potts and didn't look much further.

"The police investigation in this case has been tunnel vision with one target: Reginald Potts," Assistant Public Defender Michael Morrissey said when the trial opened last month. "The case is riddled with doubt."

During her rebuttal, McCarthy said Potts was "the only person in the world who threatened Nailah Franklin."

"Was [Franklin's death] an accident?" McCarthy asked. "While frolicking naked in the woods behind his brother-in-law's store, she had an accident? ... I mean, how ridiculous is that?"

Franklin was first reported missing on Sept. 19, 2007, after she failed to show up to work. Her boyfriend at the time said her phone kept going to voicemail the evening of Sept. 18, and he sent an email on Sept. 19 asking, "Are you alive?" according to court testimony.

Potts was charged with first-degree murder in December 2007. Since then, he has hired and fired several attorneys and even tried to represent himself on more than one occasion — causing myriad delays in the case.

In the nearly eight years he's been awaiting trial inside Cook County Jail (where he's being held without bail), Potts has racked up more than 200 infractions and several new felony charges, including battery to police and criminal damage to government property.

"It was never easy ... because of all the distractions [Potts] created over the years, claiming he wanted to represent himself," Assistant State's Attorney Fabio Valentini said after the verdict was read Tuesday. "It was more abuse that he heaped upon [Franklin's family], dragging this thing out."

On Monday, Potts declined to testify on his behalf.

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