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New Johnsonville man convicted in 2015 Houston County wreck

Mark Hicks , USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee Published 7:05 a.m. CT March 8, 2017 | Updated 2:06 p.m. CT March 8, 2017

Jury finds a New Johnsonville man guilty of six vehicular homicide counts in crash that killed a couple and their newborn daughter


ERIN, Tenn. — The driver of a pickup involved in a 2015 crash that killed a young couple and their 12-day-old daughter was convicted by a jury Tuesday night of six counts of vehicular homicide.


Some family members of 38-year-old Benjamin Franklin of New Johnsonville, had to leave the courtroom prior to the reading of the verdict.

One juror was visibly emotional and several others appeared very solemn as they awaited the verdict to be announced nearly four hours after they began deliberations.

Jurors found Franklin guilty of three counts of vehicular homicide by driver intoxication and three counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving.

Circuit Court Judge Suzanne Lockert-Mash set Franklin's sentencing hearing for April 24.

Franklin crossed the center line of Highway 13 as he drove a Dodge pickup southbound near Deep Cut Road in Houston County on Oct. 12, 2015.

He crashed into Saturn driven by William D. Griggs, 20, of Waverly.  Kassidy T. Leonard, 19, of Clarksville, and the couple's newbron daughter Kimberlynn Griggs, were also in the vehicle as they drove to Joelton.

                                                                                                      (Photo: The Leonard Family / Facebook)

All three people in the Saturn were pronounced dead at the scene. Franklin was also hurt when his truck overturned.

Three killed in Houston County crash

“I think he got what he deserved,” Leonard's grandfather Iralon Chaffin, said of Tuesday's verdict.

“We just didn’t want to see this happen to anybody else,” added her grandmother, Barbara Chaffin. “We have three family members that we won’t see again until we get to heaven.”

The Leonard family declined to comment.

The Chaffins traveled from Bristol, Tenn., to attend the two-day trial and wore T-shirts bearing the image of Griggs, Leonard and Kimberlynn, as did members of the Leonard family.

A member of Franklin’s family turned on the courthouse steps as everyone was leaving and said, “We have lost a family member, too.”

At one point during the jury deliberations, Franklin's family and friends circled in the courthouse hall outside his holding cell, joining hands, bowing heads and praying.

Drugs before the crash

During the trial, prosecutors laid out a case that indicated Franklin was under the influence of narcotics at the time of the crash.

Assistant District Attorney Talmage Woodall said two blood tests administered to Franklin rendered insufficient results because he had received three blood transfusions at Vanderbilt University Medical Center before the samples were taken. However a urine sample taken around 7:30 p.m. tested positive for Oxycontin, methamphetamine and amphetamine.

Woodall said amounts of the drugs in Franklin’s system couldn’t be determined by the urine test but testimony indicated that Oxycontin could be detected in urine for up to 24 hours and for one to four days for the other drugs after taking them.

Benjamin Franklin is lead to a patrol car following guilty verdicts in his vehicular homicide trial.

In a statement to THP investigators, Franklin admitted to taking Oxycontin at 2 a.m. on Sunday, more than 24 hours before the wreck.  

A trooper also testified that during the interview, Franklin said he used drug intravenously and Oxycontin was his preference.

Another THP investigator testified that Franklin’s truck was three feet in the oncoming lane at the time of the impact, and the vehicle was across the center line for 10 to 15 seconds.

Franklin did not testify in his defense and his attorney, Chase Smith of Clarksville, declined to comment on the case.

Franklin was also involved in a deadly crash in 2007 when the truck he was driving crossed over the center line and crashed into three cars, killing his passenger.

Driver in Highway 13 wreck was in previous deadly crash

A difficult decision

The jury of four men and eight women received the case just before 6 p.m. after receiving instructions from Judge Lockert-Mash. After about two hours of deliberation, they returned with a question about lesser included offenses if they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on an original count.

The judge reiterated her instructions that the jury had to consider a lesser charge if it couldn't reach a decision on the original one.

The jury left the courtroom for more deliberation and returned around 9:15 p.m.

They told the judge one juror was “having difficulty passing judgment,” and asked that one of two alternates replace that juror. But Lockert-Mash said the two alternates had already been released.

After about 15 minutes more of deliberations, the jury returned with the guilty verdicts.

The judge thanked jurors for their service and acknowledged the case had "a very trying set of facts" that was difficult to hear.

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