DES MOINES, Iowa — A mentally ill Iowa woman who struck two children with her Jeep in 2019 because they were Black and Hispanic pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal hate crime charges in the case.
Nicole Marie Poole Franklin, 43, of Des Moines, admitted that she targeted the children, a Black 12-year-old boy and a Hispanic 14-year-old girl, because of their race. Poole Franklin believed the boy was of Middle Eastern or African descent, and she believed the girl was “a Mexican,” according to authorities.
Poole Franklin also pleaded guilty to attempted murder charges in state court Thursday, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Nicole Poole Franklin attempted to kill two children because she thought they came from another country,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “All people in the United States, regardless where they come from, have the right to be free from fear of violence because of who they are. The Justice Department will continue to protect the civil rights of all individuals and prosecute hate crimes, as we have done in this case.”
The Des Moines Register reported that Poole Franklin said in federal court Wednesday that she believed the 12-year-old boy was Middle Eastern and an Islamic terrorist.
At 3:38 p.m. on Dec. 9, 2019, Poole Franklin spotted the boy and his sibling walking on a sidewalk in a Des Moines apartment complex. She drove her 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee over the curb and onto the sidewalk, striking the 12-year-old. The boy suffered cuts, bruises and swelling to his leg.
Poole Franklin drove away without stopping. Witnesses told police the vehicle that struck the child accelerated prior to hitting him.
That incident was captured on surveillance footage, authorities said.
Around 30 minutes later, Poole Franklin was in nearby Clive, where she saw the Hispanic victim walking near Indian Hills Junior High School. She again intentionally drove up onto the sidewalk and struck the girl, identified at the time as Natalia Miranda.
Miranda, whose name became public when she and her parents spoke to the media, was walking to a basketball game at the school when she was hit. She lay, unconscious in the snow, for several minutes before regaining consciousness and stumbling the remaining few blocks to the school, where she got help.
Miranda suffered a concussion, cuts, bruises and swelling. She spoke to KCCI in Des Moines two days after the crash as she recovered at her family’s home.
“I don’t remember the impact, I just remember the car coming towards me,” the teen said.
Poole Franklin later told detectives she’d smoked meth a few hours before the attacks.
She was arrested about an hour after the attack on Miranda. According to police, Poole Franklin went to a West Des Moines Conoco gas station, where she was accused of berating the clerk, taking and eating items she had not paid for and throwing objects at the clerk, who co-owns the store with his brother.
A witness, Kevin Reed, told the Register in 2019 that he was in the store when he saw Poole Franklin throwing bags of potato chips, referring to people by racial and ethnic slurs and destroying merchandise.
She was charged with assault, operating under the influence, theft and public intoxication in that incident, the Register reported. It was not immediately clear Monday if those charges are still pending or if they were to be dropped as part of her plea agreement.
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said last week that the organization was pleased with Poole Franklin’s guilty pleas.
“We welcome this guilty plea as the culmination of a law enforcement effort to hold the perpetrator accountable,” Hooper said in a statement obtained by the Register. “It is our hope that the court will impose a sentence that reflects the severity of the crime, as well as the victims’ wishes.”
Betty Andrews, head of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, said Iowa and the U.S. have a “long way to go to reach a space where every human is valued equally.”
“We continue to be concerned about the cultural trauma (Poole Franklin’s) victims have experienced, and how this can be addressed in times where people of color continue to be targeted for their skin,” Andrews said.
Poole Franklin, who is scheduled for sentencing May 28 on the state charges, faces up to 25 years in prison on each attempted murder charge.
The federal hate crime charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each charge. According to Poole Franklin’s plea agreement, prosecutors are recommending she serve 27 years in prison, to run at the same time as her sentence on the state charges.
Her sentence is at the sole discretion of the judge, however. Her federal sentencing hearing is set for Aug. 19.
Poole Franklin, who has an extensive criminal history, as well as a long history of mental illness, had been declared incompetent to stand trial in February 2020. The judge reversed her decision three months later after a doctor reevaluated her, the Register reported last year.
She told the court Wednesday that she suffers from schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Miranda and her family were in federal court Wednesday as Poole Franklin admitted to the crimes. The girl’s father, Cesar Miranda, told CNN that the family had sympathy for Poole Franklin, despite the trauma she’d inflicted upon them, because “it’s just a person that has a lot of problems.”
Cesar Miranda told the network he’d always felt blessed to live in the U.S. but that the incident with his daughter make him lose “the hope and the feeling of being free in this country.”
“It’s just hard to believe that someone can have the heart to do that to somebody, to hurt someone just because they believe you’re Mexican, believe you are Latino, or your skin color and just think you don’t deserve to be here,” he said.
Watching the court proceedings brought a little of that hope back.
“This just gave me a little hope to say, ‘I can live here, my kids can live here. We can walk anywhere, we can live in any corner of this country without anybody judging us because of skin color or where they think we are from or whether they think we deserve to live here,’” Miranda said. “We deserve to live here, and there’s is no place on this Earth that any human being should say, ‘You don’t belong here.’”