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March 2, 2024

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Karreon Franks’ adoptive parents sentenced to decades in prison for his murder

15-year-old Vancouver boy died of starvation in November 2020

By , Columbian Local News Editor
Published:
4 Photos
Jesse Franks, right, and Felicia Adams, center, talk to defense attorneys Alyosha McClain and Jeff Sowder, respectively, on Wednesday during their sentencing at the Clark County Courthouse. The pair were found guilty of homicide by abuse and second-degree murder in the 2020 starvation death of their adopted 15-year-old son, Karreon Franks, after a two-week trial in October.
Jesse Franks, right, and Felicia Adams, center, talk to defense attorneys Alyosha McClain and Jeff Sowder, respectively, on Wednesday during their sentencing at the Clark County Courthouse. The pair were found guilty of homicide by abuse and second-degree murder in the 2020 starvation death of their adopted 15-year-old son, Karreon Franks, after a two-week trial in October. (Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

With tears welling in her eyes, Judge Suzan Clark on Wednesday sentenced the adoptive mother and father of a 15-year-old boy they starved to death to 35 years and 30 years in prison, respectively.

“What happened to Karreon (Franks) is one of the saddest things I have seen in 37 years — a child with special needs in the condition he was in when he died,” Clark said at Wednesday’s sentencing.

“And the hardest part of this was I kept waiting in trial for a good reason for this.”

She said never before had she returned to her chambers after a trial and “had all of the jurors in tears because of what they had been through.” One of the alternate jurors complained of being unable to sleep.

A Clark County Superior Court jury in October convicted Felicia L. Adams, 54, and Jesse C. Franks, 58, of homicide by abuse and second-degree murder in Karreon’s death along with two counts of second-degree criminal mistreatment of his brothers, then 14 and 13 years old. (The murder conviction was vacated Wednesday to avoid double jeopardy.) Jurors also found a number of aggravating factors — abuse of trust and deliberate cruelty, among others — for each defendant.

Those aggravating factors allowed Clark to order an exceptionally long sentence for Adams, who prosecutors say appeared to be in charge of the home.

“Karreon was an extremely vulnerable child,” Senior Deputy Prosecutor Laurel Smith said. “The others only survived because they were slightly less vulnerable. These are two children fighting for their survival while being forced to watch their brother’s demise, his murder.”

She called the case as cruel as they come.

At trial, prosecutors said Karreon and his brothers were accustomed to food restrictions and corporal punishment in their Vancouver home.

Karreon was severely developmentally delayed and autistic, to the point he was nearly nonverbal. He was also legally blind and used a cane to get around. He further struggled to keep food down, attorneys told the jury.

Prosecutors told the jury Karreon lost 47 percent of his body weight between July 2019 and his death on Nov. 27, 2020. His weight dropped from 115 pounds to 61 pounds. The majority of that time he was isolated at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clark told the couple numbers don’t lie, referring to growth charts for the three boys.

“Karreon lived a life that no human being should have to live,” she said, noting that at the time of his death, he weighed the same as when he was 7 years old.

‘I wasn’t portrayed in the best light’

Adams, the boys’ maternal aunt, initially declined to give a statement to the court; her attorney, Jeff Sowder, said she had said everything she needed to say at trial. But she changed her mind after her husband gave a statement.

She showed no remorse and never addressed Karreon’s death.

“It’s difficult to sit here and having heard the things I’ve heard and the depiction of us as parents,” Adams said.

She said there were many inaccuracies throughout the case, and the defense didn’t get an opportunity to put on certain evidence for the court.

“I just feel like I wasn’t portrayed in the best light and that’s too bad. Now, I have to be OK with whatever happens,” she said, adding she doesn’t deserve the 40-year sentence prosecutors were seeking.

In his statement, Franks said he felt like the prosecution had made “a bit of a point.”

“I should have, as a man, I should have stood up and pretty much done the right thing,” he said.

He blamed his lack of education and job training for not taking an active role in the household. Franks said when he married Adams, he gained stability.

He also took responsibility for his role in physically punishing Karreon’s brothers, which sometimes included hitting them with a belt and other objects.

“I just feel like doing time for me spanking them, I understand that, judge. I’m just asking for some leniency here,” he said.

Both plan to appeal their convictions and sentences, according to their attorneys.

Karreon’s brothers, who appeared for the hearing via Zoom, declined to address the court, but their foster mother did so on their behalf.

She said the damage that’s been done to the boys is lifelong and that no amount of therapy will undo it. She worries, she said, about their ability to develop healthy relationships later in life.

“I’ve been doing foster care for over 10 years, and this is by far the saddest thing I have seen in my life,” she said.

“All the normal things that I think a lot of parents and children take for granted, these kids have had stripped from them,” she added.

In addition to their sentences, the prosecution asked that Adams and Franks receive mental health treatment, not be allowed any supervisory authority over minors in the future and have no contact with the boys.

Franks’ attorney, Alyosha McClain, declined to give a statement after the hearing.

Sowder said Adams’ sentence is basically a life sentence, given her age.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor Erik Podhora, who also prosecuted the case, thanked all of the people who cared for the boys and were invested in Karreon’s education and care.

“We are really happy to see justice done again for these kids, and we hope this sentence helps close a chapter for them and allows them to move forward in their lives,” Smith said.

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