SALT LAKE CITY (AP) – The head of the NAACP’s Salt Lake City branch is asking Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to commute a death sentence for a white serial killer who authorities say was driven by racial hatred when he murdered two black Salt Lake City joggers in 1980.
Joseph Paul Franklin is scheduled to be executed next week for the 1977 murder of a Missouri man outside a synagogue. He was also convicted in the 1980 killings of 20-year-old Ted Fields and 18-year-old David Martin.
The two black men were jogging with two white women at a downtown Salt Lake City park when they were shot.
Investigators say Franklin committed more crimes in other states, including killings and bank robberies, and was motivated by a hatred of blacks and Jews. In the past, Franklin has stated that he tried to incite a race war by traveling the country and shooting people. He didn’t respond to interview requests from The Associated Press but has told media outlets that he now regrets his crimes after getting to know black inmates in prison.
Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP’s Salt Lake Branch, said in a letter to Nixon on Wednesday that the execution is more expensive than keeping Franklin in prison for life. The NAACP has been working to abolish the death penalty in at least four states in recent years.
“The money saved could be used for services for crime victims and their families and would be beneficial to educational, after-school, public safety, drug and alcohol treatment and child abuse prevention programs as well as mental health services and a host of other initiatives,” Williams wrote.
Williams said the cost of the execution would be $3 million, more than it would cost to keep Franklin in prison for life without the possibility of parole. The estimated cost she included in her letter is the same estimate used by the Death Penalty Information Center, which advocates against capital punishment.
The center’s executive director, Richard Dieter, said that the number is based on a 2008 study by the Urban Institute that found the average cost of a single execution in Maryland is $3 million. That includes the investigation of the crime, a trial, appeals and costs of incarceration. The study found that cases where prosecutors could have pursued the death penalty but did not cost about $1.1 million on average.
Dieter said the study is the best estimate currently available for the cost of a death sentence over the span of an individual case. That number is also in line with a number of other studies the center has reviewed, Dieter said.
It’s unclear if Missouri officials have estimated the costs in their state. A message left with the Missouri Department of Corrections was not immediately returned Friday.
Williams told The Associated Press on Friday that she spoke with Nixon’s office earlier that day and she was told staff was briefing the governor on her letter.
Franklin, who was arrested shortly after the Salt Lake City killings, has claimed responsibility for nearly two dozen other killings and many other crimes. He confessed to shooting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978 but was never charged.
Franklin has been convicted of killing an interracial couple in Madison, Wis., in 1977 and bombing a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., that same year. The synagogue was empty by the time the bomb detonated.
Flynt has also advocated for the killer to spend his life behind bars. Flynt was paralyzed from the waist down by a sniper’s bullet in Georgia in 1978. No one was arrested at the time.
In a court filing last Saturday in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union, Flynt said he believed that the government should not be in the business of killing people.
In the mid-1990s, while serving time in an Illinois federal prison, Franklin confessed to shooting Flynt.
A Georgia prosecutor decided not to charge Franklin because he had already been convicted in several other killings. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said that Franklin is likely the one who shot Flynt because he provided information that only the shooter would have known.
Franklin is scheduled to be executed on Nov. 20.
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