NORWICH, N.Y. (AP) — A couple decided to kill their disabled adoptive son and cover up the crime with a house fire after watching the Oscar-winning movie “Manchester by the Sea,” in which a couple’s children perish in a house fire that’s deemed accidental, according to a prosecutor handling the case.
Chenango County District Attorney Joseph McBride said during a bail hearing for Ernest and Heather Franklin last week that 16-year-old Jeffrey Franklin was killed within hours of the couple watching the film on Feb. 28, two days after it won Academy Awards for best actor and best original screenplay. McBride said an examination showed the teen died before the fire.
The Franklins are charged with murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence.
Heather Franklin’s attorney, Michael Trosset, told the court that she’s “innocent until proven guilty.”
Her husband’s public defender, John Cameron, said his office has hired a forensic pathologist to investigate. He said it’s unclear if the movie, which starred Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, had any relevance.
“We’re investigating all aspects of this case,” he said.
“Manchester by the Sea” tells the story of a man who accidentally sets a house fire that kills his children and isn’t prosecuted. During the Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 26, Affleck won the Oscar for best actor for his portrayal of the father of the children who died in the fire, and director Kenneth Lonegran took home an Oscar for best original screenplay.
McBride, the prosecutor, noted the Affleck character in the movie is told that you can’t be prosecuted for accidentally killing your children.
“Within two hours of that movie playing to this defendant and her husband, Jeffrey’s deceased,” McBride said during Friday’s bail hearing.
Officials said the fire was reported around 1:15 a.m. on March 1 at the family’s home in the rural town of Guilford, 55 miles (88 kilometers) southeast of Syracuse.
Ernest Franklin, 35, pointed out the room where the teen was lying when police arrived on the scene, authorities said. Officials have said the son had mental and physical disabilities.
The father told police he was away from the house chasing down the family’s dogs when the fire started, officials said. Meanwhile, Heather Franklin, 33, claimed to have gone to two stores seeking a certain product while driving around from 11:30 p.m. until about 2:30 a.m., when she returned home, authorities said.
An autopsy determined that Jeffrey Franklin was already dead by the time the fire started, McBride said.
“The victim was badly burned,” McBride said during the hearing. “Because of the damage to the body by the fire, the pathologist is not able to determine the cause of death.”
Bail was set at $250,000 cash for Ernest Franklin and $125,000 cash for Heather Franklin. Neither had posted bail Wednesday.
This story has been corrected to show Affleck portrayed the father, not the uncle, of the children who died in the fire.