Accused tried to get help for his anger

Friday, June 12, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

UNION TOWNSHIP -- In the weeks before police say he killed ex-girlfriend Lisa Weber, Franklin Saunders sought help to control his anger.

He took anger-management classes and met with a counselor and Fairfield police. Even his employer, Procter & Gamble Co., gave him a week off and told him to check into a hospital, Ms. Weber's family members said Thursday.

But within days, he left the hospital, found Ms. Weber, held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her for leaving him, her family said.

"She told him he needed help," said Justin Weber, her 19-year-old son.

But it came too little too late. On Tuesday, police say, the 39-year-old man made good on his earlier threat and dragged Ms. Weber, 38, into a wooded area off Muhlhauser Road, where they say he fatally shot her with a shotgun.

"We had no clue it could get this bad," said Mr. Weber, who had rammed his car into Mr. Saunders' car to stop the assault.

Mr. Saunders, of Fox Run Drive in Blue Ash, was charged with aggravated murder and kidnapping Wednesday after surrendering to police after a 12-hour manhunt. A preliminary hearing will be held in West Chester on Monday.

It was not the first time Mr. Saunders' temper landed him in jail. He served time in the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield from June 23, 1987, to Aug. 26, 1987, for felonious assault, according to records at the Mansfield Correctional Institution, which replaced the reformatory.

He was then transferred to a state prison in Chillicothe, Ohio, Mansfield records show.

However, prison officials at the Ross County Institute have no record of Mr. Saunders. The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction also has no record of him.

That's because he had his record expunged for the assault, which involved stabbing of his ex-wife in the leg with a hunting knife, according to Ms. Weber's ex-husband, Mark Weber, and her sister, Amy Stewart.

Union Township police would not discuss his criminal record. Mr. Saunders' lawyers also declined comment.

An expunged felony is possible under Ohio law if it is the first offense and only three years after the completion of a sentence, probation and parole, Butler County Common Pleas Judge John R. Moser said Thursday.

Once an ex-convict completes an application, the decision rests with a judge, he said.

It was during Mr. Saunders' time in prison when he and Ms. Weber came into contact, Ms. Stewart said. Ms. Weber was close friends with Mr. Saunders' cousin and began writing letters to him.

"The correspondence between them was nothing intense," Ms. Stewart said. " . . . Lisa always wanted to help everybody." At some point after his release, their friendship turned romantic and became an eight-year relationship, she said.

Though her sister tried to solve everyone else's problems, she lacked the self-assurance to solve her own, Ms. Stewart said. That included putting an end to Mr. Saunders' degrading comments and physical abuse.

"He would apologize," Ms. Stewart said. " . . . He went through anger management and therapy."

He also talked to a Fairfield police officer about his anger, she said.

But her sister refused to file a restraining order or charges against him because she feared it would jeopardize his job and his chances of getting custody of 11-year-old daughter Lindsey, a child from a former marriage, Ms. Stewart said. .

Late Wednesday, family members found a recording on her answering machine left Monday by Mr. Saunders.

Mr. Weber refused to give details about the message, saying only it was "weird" and "sounded like he was sad."

Mr. Saunders' parents, Franklin Saunders Sr. and Annette Saunders of Portsmouth, Ohio, did not want to talk about the shooting.

"I love my son, I love Lisa. He made a mistake, now he's going away for the rest of his life," Annette Saunders said before hanging up the phone.

Ms. Weber's family spent the day making funeral arrangements. Visitation will be noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Webb and Noonan Funeral Home in Hamilton, Ms. Stewart said. The burial will follow at the Greenwood Cemetery. She will be buried next to her brother, who was killed in a car accident about 17 years ago.

Ms. Weber died on the eve of a planned vacation to Florida. She was to leave Wednesday afternoon to visit an aunt and get away from Mr. Saunders, Ms. Stewart said.

"She almost made it."

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