It was a day of reckoning for convicted killer Michael John Franco.
Judge Anthony Villalobos sentenced Franco to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder of beloved Palm Desert High School teacher Jill Grant.
Franco murdered 41-year-old Grant on December 23, 2013. He slashed her throat with a box cutter, kidnapped her and ran her over with her car then tried to go on the run before police arrested him.
Franco had so many outbursts during the proceedings, the judge threatened to throw him out or gag him.
Michael Thomas, Grant’s brother gave a moving statement on behalf of the family. Both of his parents died before they learned the fate of their daughter’s killer.
Thomas said his sister was kind and caring, "Unfortunately, this loving, nurturing personality — these are good traits — is ultimately what gave an individual the ability to take advantage of her,” Thomas said adding that despite Franco’s history of drug addition and criminal past, she helped him through several stets in rehab, paid for his child support and all of his living expenses, "when she finally had enough, she realized he was a lost cause, which
is something that would have been really difficult for my sister to accept. There are no lost causes in her classroom. There are no lost causes among her
Thomas said when Franco realized his con was up, he killed her. Thomas also made sure to thank Kristi Kirk, the deputy district attorney who tried the case. He said it was almost like she stepped into his sister’s shoes. And he also thanked the jurors for sitting through hours of brutal testimony. Then he also lamented the fact that he was denied access to the hearings.
Her friend Shannon Kistler also made a statement and wore Grant’s green scarf around her neck. She held up a collage board of pictures of Grant with family and friends.
Then Franco announced he wanted to make a statement. The entire courtroom gasped.
Franco wept during his entire statement saying he was sorry for the pain the family had gone through with the loss of Grant and that he felt the same pain and that prison was worse than death. He also told the family and friends to write to him if they had any questions and ended with, "If anyone can find it in your heart to please pray for me, I’m sorry."
Before sentencing Franco, the judge weighed in on the impact the murder had on the community. He said the popular math teacher was so loved the family had to hold her services at the high school. He said her loss was significant. He also said it was the first time Franco showed any remorse but still sentenced him to life without parole because he said it was a fair sentence for a ‘horrible, horrible, horrible crime.
Family and friends hugged outside the courtroom and were all smiles.
Thomas said he was relieved it was finally over and didn’t have to think of Franco ever again.
Thomas said he wanted to make sure Franco deprived his family and community of a wonderful person, "He robbed us of a person who was always nurturing and caring … I wanted him to understand that he used the best qualities off my sister to take advantage of her and then murder her."
Thomas said he didn’t buy the tearful apology, "He’s just a bad guy all around, evil person with no remorse."
Grant’s friend, Shannon Kistler didn’t buy it either, "That was an academy award moment, it truly was I cannot believe that he was sincere with any of that he never apologized for murdering her."
Kirk said she was happy with the outcome, "Knowing justice was achieved and that Mr. Thomas was able to be there for closing arguments, it meant the world to me."
Thomas says the way she was taken from the family took a toll on the family and is sure it played a role in both of his parents deaths, "Her throat was cut, she was tortured for hours, she was finally run over by a car repeatedly by a car, it’s not something a mother can handle … his decline absolutely began the night he heard my sister was killed and that’s definitely what killed her too."
But it was the way Grant lived her life that he and friends will remember and want others to remember her for too. They say it’s the reason she was so loved and will be forever missed, "She was a friend to everyone who met her, I don’t think that she had a enemy, she loved everyone, everyone loved her and she was such a bright light."
In addition to life in prison Franco was given 12 years for other offenses. He will serve that time before serving his life sentence. Grant’s brother says now he can just focus on honoring the life of his sister and carry on her legacy of joy and kindness.