Missouri executes serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin
Associated Press in Bonne Terre, Missouri
Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death on Wednesday in Missouri, the state’s first execution using a single drug, pentobarbital.
Franklin, 63, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders across the country and claimed responsibility for up to 20 overall, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
Franklin also admitted to shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who has been paralysed from the waist down since the attack in 1978. Flynt had sued to stop Franklin’s execution because he doesn’t believe the death penalty is a deterrent.
Mike O’Connell, of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6.17am. It was the state’s first execution in nearly three years.
Franklin’s fate was sealed early on Wednesday when the US Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted on Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri.
Franklin’s lawyer had launched three separate appeals: one claiming his life should be spared because he is mentally ill; one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty; and one raising concern about Missouri’s first-ever use of pentobarbital.
The rulings lifting the stay were issued without comment.
Like other states, Missouri had long used a three-drug execution method. Drugmakers stopped selling those drugs to prisons and corrections departments, so in April last year Missouri announced a new one-drug execution protocol using propofol.
But Governor Jay Nixon ordered the Missouri Department of Corrections to come up with a new drug after the European Union threatened to limit exports of the popular anaesthetic if the United States used it in an execution, prompting an outcry among US medical professionals.
Missouri then joined other states in selecting pentobarbital as the drug of choice for executions, produced by a compounding pharmacy. Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of the sedative last year. South Dakota has carried out two executions using the drug. Georgia has said it’s also taking that route.
The appeals and supreme court rulings overturned US District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey decision late on Tuesday. She held that the Missouri Department of Corrections “has not provided any information about the certification, inspection history, infraction history, or other aspects of the compounding pharmacy or of the person compounding the drug.” She noted that the execution protocol, which has changed repeatedly, “has been a frustratingly moving target.”
Franklin’s attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said at the time that his mental illness was likely keeping him from comprehending the developments.
Franklin, a paranoid schizophrenic who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, was in his mid-20s in 1977 when he began drifting across America, robbing up to 16 banks to fund his travels.
He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July that year. No one was hurt, but the killings began soon after that, many of them sniper shootings.
Franklin had a particular dislike for interracial couples – several of his victims were black men and the white women with them.
He arrived in suburban St Louis and picked out Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the phone book. On October 8, 1977, a bar mitzvah ended and guests were in the parking lot when Franklin opened fire from a grassy area nearby, killing Gordon, 42.
The killings continued for three more years. Franklin was finally caught after killing two young black men who were about to go jogging with two teenage white girls in Salt Lake City in August 1980.
Years later, in federal prison, he admitted to the St Louis County killing. He was sentenced to death in 1997.
Franklin, in the days leading up to the execution, said in several interviews that he was sorry for his crimes and was no longer a racist.
He has denied repeated interview requests from The Associated Press. Herndon said Franklin’s reasoning exemplified his mental illness: Franklin told her the digits of the AP’s St Louis office phone number added up to what he called an “unlucky number,” so he refused to call it.