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48 Hours Mystery: Fatal Choice

Fatal Choice
Fatal Choice 39:59

Produced by Alec Sirken
[This story originally aired on Jan, 8, 2011. It was updated on Sept. 3.]

On a hot August night, 56-year-old Sandra Franklin calls police to report a violent confrontation.

911 Operator: Bainbridge 911, what is your emergency.
Sandra Franklin: Yes, my husband just attacked me and I stabbed him.
911 Operator: OK, what's your address?
Sandra Franklin: 9495 Stafford…
911 Operator: And you stabbed him with what?
Sandra Franklin: With a knife, a kitchen knife….

As paramedics and police in Bainbridge, Ohio, rush to Sandra's horse farm, oddly, a second call comes in from the same address - this time from the victim himself, 73-year-old Peter Franklin.

911 Operator: What's the problem there
Peter Franklin: Stab wound…
911 Operator: You were stabbed with a knife? Who stabbed you?
Peter Franklin: My wife…
911 Operator: Did she do it intentionally?
Peter Franklin: Yes

Listen to their 911 calls

He's stumbled into the backyard, bleeding heavily from a single stab wound to the chest.

Within hours, Peter Franklin was dead, and his wife, Sandra, was charged with his murder.

"I am absolutely not a murderer," Sandra tells "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Peter Van Sant. "There isn't a day that goes by that I don't cry… I still love my husband…"

But what could have brought a loving relationship to this?

Sandra and Peter's love affair had started nine years earlier. "He was just a - a fantastic figure of a man to me," she says.

After several failed relationships, they both felt they'd finally met the love of their lives.

"He was a doctor," Sandra says. "And I loved that about him, too, that he was out there helping people."

In fact, since his early 20s, Peter Franklin's whole life had been about helping others.

"He was a person who cared deeply for other people. He wanted to go and learn different things about different countries," says Peter's first wife, Liz Franklin.

Peter and Liz met in her home country, South Africa, while he was in the Peace Corps in the early 1960s.

"And he also wanted to go to Vietnam to help somehow there," she says.

After the Peace Corps, Peter did go to Vietnam, volunteering to help wounded children trapped in the war zone. The experience inspired him to become a doctor.

Asked if Peter was a good man, Liz tells Van Sant, "I think he was a very good man. He could drive you nuts, but he was a very good man … Peter Franklin was brilliant, but he could be infuriating with his detachment."

Peter and Liz settled in a small town just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, where Peter started a family medical practice.

In 1965, the couple had a son, Bram; everyone called him Brami.

Tragically, while on a camping trip with his father, Brami was killed in a freak accident while playing near an abandoned gas tank. He was just 10 years old.

Liz says their son's death had "a hugh impact" on Peter. "He was very, very sad and…really missed him very much."

While grieving, Liz became more aware of the odd quirks in Peter's personality.

"He didn't form attachments easily," she says. "He was withdrawn and unable to express his words."

After Brami's death, Peter and Liz drifted apart and their 17-year marriage ended in divorce.

Three years later, Peter met Bobbi Arters, a single mom of two boys.

"When I met him, he was a kind and very generous person… My sons were 12 and 13. They looked up to him," Bobbi says. "And I think if anything I could thank him for is… my one son is a doctor now and the other son's an engineer … And they quite - recall all the good things he did for them," she continues, in tears. "He was such a good person."

During their two years together, Bobbi introduced Peter to the world of horses.

"He wanted to learn to shoe his own horse… he wanted to learn to jump… and he would just dive into it and learn it," she says.

But like Liz, Bobbi noticed there was a strange underside to Peter's personality.

Asked if Peter could be exasperating at times, Bobbi tells Van Sant, "he could be because he lacked the emotion and the awareness that I think a woman or most people would want."

It led to their breakup, and Peter remained one of the most eligible bachelors in the county for years… until he met Sandra.

"This was an amazing thing, to fall so deeply in love with somebody so quickly… We would go hunting. And the rest of the group couldn't find us. They would get angry with us because we'd be dropping off and dropping off, and get lost in the woods together," she recalls with laughter. "I mean, it was just - so spectacular. There's nothing quite like being in love."

But the two of them had come from different worlds. While Peter had grown up wealthy in New York City, Sandra came from a poor family in rural Ohio.

"We lived in trailer parks quite a bit….and my mother was the breadwinner," Sandra says. "I was horse crazy from the time I was 3…"

Through horses, she made a career of teaching riding to children. "And I just loved the interaction… that I had with the kids, and it was really just a wonderful, wonderful life," she says.

It was a wonderful life she hoped she'd continue with Peter.

Three months after their first date, Sandra became Mrs. Franklin. "And this was the start of something that was going to be just the best thing in my life," she says.

But, she says, the romance quickly faded. "I think he has something wrong with him. He would hit me. He would… pick me up and throw me."

"It was kill or be killed," Van Sant remarks.

"That's right." Peter and Sandra married in 2000, spending as much time as they could on horseback.

"Peter would say, 'Someday, I'd like to find my life-long princess," says Sandy McDermott, Peter Franklin's office manager for nearly 20 years. She says with Sandra, he acted as if he'd finally found his princess.

"He loved me with all his heart. As far as I could see, early on," says Sandra

But soon after they were married, Sandra started trying to take control of Peter's life, including the office.

"And when she was there, she segregated Peter off to himself," says McDermott.

Eventually, Sandra fired McDermott and took over managing the office herself. "I worked very, very hard for the office in policy making, in answering the phone," she explains.

Almost immediately, things began to change. In 2003, in a move to increase profits, Peter dropped his malpractice insurance, something Sandra says she objected to. "I said, 'Peter, please don't do this. Just get the insurance.'"

And to protect his wealth in case he was ever sued, Peter transferred all of his assets, worth $3 million, to Sandra.

"He said, 'I'm putting it in your name, everything. And then I'm protected and I can save that money,'" she says.

And there were more changes at the practice: Peter shifted from family medicine to pain management, where he prescribed powerful narcotics. Patients had to pay out-of-pocket, because the doctor refused to take medical insurance. "I tried to talk him out of it," Sandra tells Peter Van Sant.

She says Peter began dispensing an alarming amount of narcotics. "And I would say, 'What are you doing? …This is enough to kill a horse.'"

State drug investigators became suspicious, and in early 2009, raided his office for allegedly over-prescribing painkillers. Although there were no arrests, authorities were still watching Dr. Peter Franklin.

Sandra says the enormous stress changed Peter. He became violent.

"I came to fear him intensely," she says. "He would slap me or shake me, throttle me, push me against the wall…"

But did that really happen? Peter's former girlfriend, Bobbi Arters, has her doubts.

"He never ever raised a hand. He never raised his voice," she tells Van Sant. "He never showed any aggression."

"They didn't know him like I knew him," Sandra says. "I didn't know him, apparently, when I married him."

By the summer of 2009, the couple was on the brink of divorce. Peter was demanding his $3 million in assets back. Sandra refused to turn them over.

"He says, 'I want my land back.' He had threatened me that if he didn't get his land back that he was going to kill me," she explains.

Just a week before Peter's death, Sandra made a 911 call, fearing, she says, for her life.

911 Operator: Bainbridge 911, what's the emergency?
Sandra Franklin: My name is Sandra Franklin and my husband threatened me.

"They sent three policemen, or four policemen, and he was escorted out of the house," says Sandra.

Peter denied threatening Sandra, but agreed to stay in the couple's trailer.

"I wanted Peter to know that I wasn't going just to take it anymore," she says.

But then on Aug. 16, 2009, their arguing reached the boiling point.

"It was a hot August day. We were in the barn, feeding horses. Peter seemed angry," Sandra recalls. "We walked into the house and we're arguing."

It was in the hallway directly off the kitchen, says Sandra, that the argument escalated out of control.

"We're in the hallway… one word leads to another… and he hits me. He hit me in the face," she explains. "All of a sudden I feel this sharp thing on my chest… he's holding his keys… but on the keys is a knife… And he took the knife, and he put it up at my throat, and he said, 'I could kill you.'"

Sandra says she backed away towards the kitchen, where she instinctively found something she could protect herself with.

"I grabbed the knife," she demonstrates for Van Sant with a similar knife, "and I just held it down, my arms were down - I wasn't hiding it… but I didn't think I'd have to use it. I was not wielding it at him and threatening him with it.

"…and then he pushes me, he just flings me - down the hallway."

Still holding the knife, Sandra says she stumbled into the small laundry room, where Peter cornered her.

"…and he's coming down with this metal right here, right over my head. And I'm thinking, 'I'm not gonna let him kill me.'

"I took my knife up," she continues, "and I went a short (jabs knife into air) and I winced. I closed my - I was looking up, I winced and I went like that (stabs). And he went 'Oh.'"

Watch Sandra's demonstration

Bleeding internally, Peter staggers through the house and toward the garage, as Sandra calls 911.

911 Operator: Where is your husband at now?
Sandra Franklin: He's right outside here
911 Operator: OK.
Sandra Franklin: He came at me. He hit me.

Peter managed to get out into the backyard, where he dialed 911.

Listen to their 911 calls

Within minutes, police and ambulances arrived at the scene and took Sandra Franklin away in handcuffs.

Sgt. Andy Kelley: Did he push you, shove you -
Sandra Franklin: Yeah. He smacked me hard in the face and knocked me to the ground.

But was it self-defense? As Peter Franklin lay dying on the grass outside his home, he made one last effort to save his own life.

911 Operator: Are you bleeding?
Peter Franklin: Yes.
911 Operator: Do you have a clean cloth on it?
Peter Franklin: Yes.
911 Operator: Were you involved in an argument?
Peter Franklin: She won.
911 Operator: Peter… Peter?

Trying to stop the bleeding, he clutches a bundle of clothing to his chest.

"Peter is a dying man. He's catching his last breaths," Geauga County Prosecutor Dave Joyce says. "Why did Dr. Peter Franklin waste his last words on earth calling 911? Because he didn't think anyone was going to help him…

"She is not a loving wife who, 'Oh my God, I made a mistake, I still love you, Peter.' She called 911 from inside the house. And she didn't take any steps to help him," Joyce continues. "As far as she was concerned, he was bleeding to death in that backyard and she could care less and was going to leave him there."

David Joyce and fellow Prosecutor Carly Snavely believe Sandra Franklin's 911 call was nothing more than the first step in fabricating her claim of self-defense.

Listen to their 911 calls

"That phone call was made to help herself, not him," says Carly Snavely.

"What do you think of Sandra's story of what she claims happened in this space?" Peter Van Sant asks Investigator Karen Sweet as they stand in the Franklin's laundry room.

"I think everything she said was a lie," says Sweet, who believes Sandra was the aggressor.

"He came over to the laundry room to get some clothing out of the dryer. And as he stood up, he turned. I think he was totally caught off guard, I think he was ambushed," Sweet explains. "I think Sandra was right here, and just stabbed him right there, in the heart."

"So, he had no idea this was coming?" Van Sant asks.

"No, I think he had no clue, whatsoever. Because he had no defense wounds. There's no blood trail," she replies.

In fact, there was no blood at all in the laundry room. Sweet says that's because Dr. Franklin was holding laundry he'd taken out of the dryer when he was attacked.

"He had to have that laundry in his hands to apply the wound immediately," she explains. "Because that was such a severe wound, it would have been bleeding all over the floor."

Sandra has a different explanation. She claims that in the middle of his vicious attack on her, Peter suddenly stopped to get his laundry.

"Then, he bends over and he goes into the dryer. He opens the dryer to get his clothes," Sandra explains.

Van Sant comments, "What a bizarre scene though. In one moment you said he was attacking you and cutting you and then he decides to do some laundry?"

"He originally came in there, in the house, to get his clothes for the next day," Sandra says.

"Why would he take a break in the middle of killing someone to get laundry?" Sweet asks. "That's crazy."

When Sandra was questioned at the police station that night by Sgt. Andy Kelley, she was quick to point out the wounds on her arm she had suffered at the hands of her husband.

Sandra's Interrogation: I feared for me life. He said he was going to kill me. …He used some sharp object, I thought it was a knife - I don't know what it was - and he went like that (scrapes arm).

Watch excerpts of Sandra's interrogation

"The only injury that I noticed was some scratch marks on her left forearm," Sgt. Andy Kelley tells Van Sant. "In the interview, she'll go look into the mirror and she says that 'there's a red mark there.' I did not observe any red mark on her face whatsoever."

Later, when the scratches on Sandra's arm and chest were photographed, police discovered another set of scratches on her chest that she never told police about in the interview.

"After the interview, she was placed into a holding cell by herself and that's when I believe that she caused these scratches to herself," says Kelley.

"I think she was sitting in that jail cell going, 'Oh crap. I'd better get some more injuries on me if I'm gonna get a self-defense case," says Sweet.

Sandra's Interrogation: And then he put it up to my throat and he said, "I'm gonna kill you…you bitch."

In the police interrogation, Sandra never identified exactly what the sharp object was that Peter used to leave those marks. And investigators never found that weapon at the scene.

"The only thing - metal object located - was the 12-inch butcher knife that Sandra had used to stab Dr. Franklin," says Kelley.

But when she returned home after making bail, Sandra claims she found a sharp object - a keychain and two-inch pen knife - which she turned over to her lawyers.

"This was a pen knife found nowhere on the crime scene," says Snavely.

"Why shouldn't we believe that you sucker-punched this guy - sucker-knifed him - and you murdered him?" Van Sant asks Sandra.

"Because that's not what happened," she replies. "Because I don't have any motive to kill my husband."

According to investigators, Sandra had plenty of motive. In a divorce, she stood to lose $3 million worth of Peter's assets that he had signed over to her and was now demanding back.

"She wouldn't have her plush, $60,000-a-year job and house and benefits that came with being a doctor's wife," Joyce says. "She's back to Sandra Franklin, 57 years old and basically a barn hand."

There was also the matter of the ongoing drug investigation into Dr. Franklin's highly profitable pain management practice. Police documents show Sandra was also a target of the investigation.

"She was under the microscope as well," Snavely adds. "I don't think there's any question that she had a hand in it."

"Do you believe Sandra was using Dr. Franklin, her husband, to raise all this cash? She encouraged him to get into this illegal drug business?" Van Sant asks Sweet.

"I do," she replies.

Sandra stood to get even more money. With Peter out of the picture, she would collect on his million-dollar life insurance policy.

"That policy was due to end in two weeks," Sweet explains. "And because they were divorcing …the likelihood of him throwing out another $20,000 cash to renew that policy was probably nil."

"It was one of those things where all of a sudden there's a million dollars out there and he was worth more to her dead than alive," Joyce says. "She saw her little world starting to turn and as the water's going down the drain, she didn't want to be part of it. And I think she worked herself up into this frenzy and eventually she exploded. And that explosion, unfortunately, was his death."

Just nine months after Peter's death, Sandra's trial is set to begin.

"Sandra Franklin did purposely cause the death of her husband Peter S. Franklin," Prosecutor David Joyce tells the court.

Her attorney, Steve Bell, is confident about her defense.

"Mrs. Franklin's only intent on Aug, 16, 2009, was to defend herself," Bell says in his opening.

"They wanted to charge her with murder, they did charge her with murder," Bell tells Van Sant.
"Not one minute was spent by the Bainbridge Police Department trying to understand what she had been through… It's an embarrassment to law enforcement. She's not a murderer, she didn't murder her husband." As her trial starts, Sandra Franklin is confident she will be acquitted of murdering her husband, Peter. If convicted, she could spend the rest of her life in prison.

Prosecutor David Joyce wastes no time getting to the grizzly details of Peter's death.

"Sandra Franklin took a 12-inch butcher knife and pushed it four-and-a-half inches into her husband's chest," he tells the court in his opening statement. "We're gonna talk during this trial about who the aggressor was in this fight."

Defense Attorney Steve Bell argues that aggressor was Peter Franklin, and Sandra had no choice but to defend herself.

"She believed during that struggle with Dr. Franklin, that she was about to suffer death or serious physical harm," Bells says in his opening.

Sergeant Andy Kelley, who interrogated Sandra only hours after Peter was fatally stabbed, takes the stand.

Steve Bell: How many homicide cases have you investigated?
Sgt. Kelley: Um, this would be probably the first.

Bell zeroes in on Sgt. Kelley's inexperience, focusing on that sharp object, the weapon that Sandra says Peter attacked her with.

Steve Bell: You could have driven her back to 9495 Stafford Rd, and you could have said, 'Mrs. Franklin, please show me the object that you say was held up to your throat by Dr. Peter Franklin.' You didn't do that, did you?
Sgt. Kelley: Uh, no I did not.

Steve Bell: Did you tell any of the Bainbridge officers to be please on the lookout for any sharp, shiny objects?
Sgt. Kelley: Uh, no I did not.

"They were not interested in finding the shiny object because from minute one, they had decided that - that Sandra Franklin committed murder, not that Sandra Franklin had acted in self-defense," Bell tells Van Sant.

Bell introduces that shiny object, Peter's keys and pen knife, which Sandra says she found days after his death.

Defense witness Dr. Julie Heinig says her lab found Sandra's blood and DNA all over the keychain and knife.

"The only way that could have happened is if Peter had been using that knife in the struggle that Sandra has described," says Bell.

But prosecutors argue that Sandra herself could have tampered with the key ring and pen knife before she turned it over to her lawyers.

Prosecutor Joyce: Certainly Mrs. Franklin could have scratched herself, placed her blood on there, and sent it down to you and said, "Here, can you test this for me?"
Julie Heinig: We only know what happened… correct.

Prosecutors say there's another problem.

"There's blood on every single key, key fob, on the the nail clipper - all parts of this alleged pen knife," Joyce says. "Covered in blood," adds Snavely.

Yet there was almost no blood found on Sandra's blouse.

"The only blood they could find on her blouse was one small pin drop on the top part," he says.

"It was so small," says Snavely, "it was only discovered at the crime lab."

Asked by Van Sant if the pen knife is a bunch of nonsense, Joyce says, "I don't doubt for a minute that it was manufactured."

But that little pen knife, according to Steve Bell, is the weapon that caused the wounds on Sandra's arms and chest.

"I think the most direct explanation for the jury is simply to use something that looks like human skin," Bell says, scraping a melon with the pen knife. "It is decidedly a lethal weapon."

"So there are the cuts on the melon that you just made? There are the cuts on the arm," Van Sant says, holding up a picture of Sandra's scraped arm next to the scraped melon.

"They're almost identical," Bell says of the comparison. "This is the knife that was used to make those cuts."

And to make his point, Bell brings in renowned pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, well known for his expert testimony in the deaths of JFK, Elvis Presley and JonBenet Ramsey.

Steve Bell: And are the abrasions on Mrs. Franklin's chest also consistent with wounds that could have been caused by that utility knife?
Dr. Wecht: Yes

The defense then calls on doctors and therapists to discuss Peter's alleged physical abuse of Sandra over the previous years, though she filed no police reports to support her claims.

Dr. Edwards: She told me she was hit in the head with a clipboard by her husband.

Dr. Sevastos: She complained of being struck in the left side of the face by her husband.

The prosecution attempts to counter the portrayal of Peter by calling his ex-wife, Liz, to the stand. She's traveled all the way from South Africa to testify.

Liz Franklin: He could get angry, but never dangerously angry. He never did anything to hurt me or anything like that.
Prosecutor Joyce: You certainly never felt in fear of him.
Liz Franklin: No, never, never.

Sandra never takes the stand, but Bell plays the police video of Sandra describing her husband's alleged attack:

Sandra: And he hit me and knocked me to the floor.
Sgt. Kelley: Then you went into the kitchen and grabbed the knife?
Sandra: The knife was just right there on the counter.

"I took my knife up, and I went, a short (jabs) and I winced," Sandra calmly tells Van Sant.

But jurors saw a very different version in the police video.

Watch excerpts of Sandra's interrogation

"She drove that knife into his chest with enough force to cut through bone," says Snavely.

In her closing, Prosecutor Snavely argues that whatever ignited the fatal confrontation between Peter and Sandra, it was not a fair fight.

"Even if you believe every word out of the defendant's mouth, if this is not disproportionate, I don't know what is," Snavely says holding up both the kitchen knife and pen knife.

"This thing in the hands of an angry physician who knew where to cut, knew where to kill? 'I'm gonna kill you bitch. I'm gonna kill you bitch.'" Bell tells jurors, holding up the pen knife. "You need to put yourself in the shoes of Sandy Franklin that night. What did she see? What did she feel? What did she fear?"

But Prosecutor Joyce leaves the jury with a very different scenario.

"It came in right at his heart," he tells the court. "She takes this knife, she says she's hiding it, somewhere in this area. And this poor guy's walking out with his laundry, on his way telling her, 'I've had enough, I'm done with you.' And she says, 'No, you're not.' Didn't happen, right, Sandra? Yeah."

After a four-day trial, the jury begins deliberating. Sandra Franklin returns to her horse farm, wondering if this is the last time she'll be free to ride.

"I don't wanna ever lose what I have here," she says. "I don't think that I would do well in prison."The night before her case goes the jury, Sandra spends what might be one of her last moments of freedom at home with her friends.

The next morning, both sides converge on the courthouse, unsure of what the day will bring.

"Jury's been out about four-and-a-half hours," Steve Bell tells "48 Hours." "They appear to be having some internal disagreement … There are no rules for how they do these things, and it's just amazing that it ever gets done."

On day 1, there's no verdict.

"We put on the best case that we could put on for the state of Ohio," Prosecutor David Joyce says. "And we'll let 12 people decide whether or not there's self-defense issues here or whether or not we proved our case."

As day 2 begins, there is nothing to do but wait.

"I'm terrified," Sandra says. "At any moment, these people could come up with a verdict that could be not favorable to me. And it's very scary."

Finally, after nine more hours of deliberation, the jury returns to the courtroom with the verdict: guilty. Sandra is stunned.

Then, as the jury leaves the courtroom, she lashes out: "Shame on you all!"

"They are wrong. The jury is wrong. I am innocent," a crying, defiant Sandra says as she is taken into custody.

"After that trial, I don't know how they came up with that verdict. They are wrong. I maintain my innocence forever," she says.

"Very disappointed, obviously. It's a shock. I have to say I'm at a real loss to explain what the jury had on its mind," Bell tells "48 Hours" following the verdict. "She's strong, she's tough and she'll get through it. She has to."

Three weeks later at her sentencing hearing, Sandra finally speaks out in court, determined to go down fighting and using Peter's final call for help to do it.

Sandra Franklin's Sentencing

"I don't think you should proceed with sentencing because I'm innocent of all charges," she tells Judge David Fuhry. "At his 911 call, when the operator asked him if there had been an argument, and he replied, 'She won.' And what did I win? I won my life. Fair and square, I won my life."

"You send me to prison for the rest of my life for crimes I didn't commit," a crying Sandra continues. "And when I go to that steel and stone cell, I'll be taking a little piece of every one of you in this courtroom with me."

"I think it's disgusting that someone can say that they won their life by killing their husband. I don't believe she showed one bit of remorse," Prosecutor Carly Snavely remarks.

Sandra's plea is in vain.

"The defendant shall be imprisoned in a state penal institution for an indefinite term of 15 years to life," says Judge David Fuhry, giving her the mandatory sentence.

This time, as she's led out of the courthouse, her anger has turned to despair.

"It's unfair, totally unfair,' Sandra weeps in handcuffs.

In one moment of conflict, two lives were lost. All that remains - the possessions Sandra and Peter were fighting so bitterly over - are now being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

"I'm very sad about the whole thing," says Peter's ex-wife, Liz Franklin. She sees the vindication as bittersweet.

"I mean, it's a waste of her life, it's a waste of his life… Nobody's winning, it's not a winning thing and it doesn't bring Peter back," she says. "But I'm glad he's been vindicated and that he's not this monster that she made him out to be."

In a graveyard outside of town, Peter Franklin has been reunited with his beloved, lost son. His ashes were spread over Brami's grave.

Sandra Franklin didn't collect her husband Peter's life insurance. That money and his estate went into a trust for his family.

Sandra Franklin has appealed her conviction.

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