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Manchester by the Sea plotline 'inspired couple to kill son'

Heather and Ernest Franklin with Jeffrey Franklin Image copyright Family photo

A US couple are accused of murdering their adopted disabled son and razing the house to cover up the crime after watching movie Manchester by the Sea.

Jeffrey Franklin, 16, was murdered by his parents on 28 February in upstate New York, right after his mother saw the film, a court heard.

The Oscar-winning Casey Affleck picture is about a man who accidentally kills his children in a house fire.

Heather and Ernest Franklin each face charges of murder and arson.

“Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant,” said Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride, “Jeffrey’s deceased.”

Image copyright CBS

The prosecutor told a judge that Affleck’s character is spared prosecution in the movie after being told a person cannot be charged for an accidental crime.

Only days after the film won two Academy Awards, a fire was reported at the Franklins’ home in Guildford – about 180 miles (290km) north of New York City.

“The victim was badly burned,” Mr McBride said, according to a transcript of proceedings as the couple appeared in Chenango County Court on Friday.

“Because of the damage to the body by the fire, the pathologist is not able to determine the cause of death,” he added

However, the boy did not have smoke or soot in his mouth or airway, which would have indicated he had been alive when the fire broke out, said officials.

Image copyright Studio Canal

According to the prosecutor, the boy had special needs and suffered from chronic incontinence.

Mrs Franklin, 33, had complained on Facebook about the toll taken by caring for Jeffrey, whom the couple adopted in around 2012.

“There was a very big strain in the family relationship because of Jeffrey’s special needs and that this defendant was complaining on Facebook about the strain that that was putting on her,” said Mr McBride.

Mrs Franklin – who is currently pregnant – told investigators that she had visited two shops looking for a specific medication that night.

But the prosecution says evidence shows she did not go to the store aisles where the medication was stocked.

Mr Franklin, 35, said he had been outside chasing his dogs when the fire occurred.

But while Affleck won a Best Actor Oscar for his role as a grief-stricken father in the movie, investigators did not find Mr Franklin so convincing.

Mr McBride said police found the husband to be “very calm, cool, collected” as they arrived at the home.

He allegedly “pointed to the room where Jeffrey was lying and the defendant had no physical injuries from any attempt to try to save him”.

Mrs Franklin’s lawyer told the court she was innocent until proven guilty.

He added the state was “charging her with murder without even knowing what caused the death”.

If convicted, the couple faces up to 25 years in prison.


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