ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Benjamin Holmes, the man on trial for the murder of UCF student Christine Franke, was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury at the Orange County Courthouse on Tuesday evening. Although sentencing will occur at an undetermined later date, first-degree murder is an automatic life sentence in Florida.
The jury began deliberations late Tuesday in Holmes’ first degree murder trial.
Holmes is accused of fatally shooting Franke in 2001.
“It’s a burden our family can let go of now. We’ve carried it for 21 years. I feel like justice has been served,” said Tina Franke, Christine’s mother. “They never gave up on my daughter. Not for 21 years, Even if there was nothing to be found, they were still trying to find it. I’m eternally grateful.”
Although there is no evidence Franke was sexually assaulted, investigators found semen stains on her body.
For nearly two decades, detectives were unable to match that DNA to any of Franke’s friends, co-workers and other people of interest.
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In 2018, investigators entered information about the crime scene DNA into a geneology database in hopes of identifying the killer’s family. After determining Holmes was the likely culprit, detectives obtained a search warrant to collect a swab of DNA from Holmes’s mouth.
A state crime lab analyst testified Monday that Holmes’s DNA matched the DNA collected at the crime scene two decades earlier.
“Christine Franke came face to face with this man. And she lost her life,” Assistant State Attorney Sean Wiggins told jurors as he pointed at Holmes. “For the better part of 18 years, he walked free. He saw her as a source of quick cash, an object of some sort of perverted sexual desire. He made the choices that he made that night and left a piece of himself behind.”
Holmes has not disputed that his DNA was found at the crime scene, but during closing arguments, Holmes’s attorney claimed his client’s DNA was planted on the victim’s body to frame Holmes.
“If you convict Mr. Holmes of this crime, then justice will not be served and the true perpetrator of this crime will continue, for 21-plus years, to go free,” defense attorney Jerry Girley told the jury.
Although prosecutors theorize that Holmes robbed Franke in her apartment and stole cash from her purse, the state acknowledges that it cannot prove how the two came into contact with each other.
During closing arguments, Holmes’s attorney noted that DNA is the only evidence implicating his client in the murder.
“There is not one single other piece of physical evidence that links Mr. Holmes to this crime,” said Girley.
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