BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) – White supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin has been put to death in Missouri. It was the state’s first execution in nearly three years.
The 63-year-old Franklin targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980. He was executed Wednesday at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
KMOX’s Michael Calhoun was one of three reporters who witnessed the execution. Listen to his reports below:
Franklin was convicted of seven other murders across the country and claimed responsibility for up to 20 overall. The Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
The execution was the first in Missouri using a single drug, pentobarbital.
Franklin’s fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court decision overturning stays granted Tuesday.
The decision upheld a federal appeals court’s ruling that lifted a stay of execution issued late Tuesday, just hours before Franklin had been scheduled to die by lethal injection for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
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 a new execution drug, pentobarbital.
The rulings lifting the stay were issued without comment.
The state’s death warrant for Franklin allows the execution to be carried out anytime Wednesday.
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 2012 Missouri announced a new one-drug execution protocol using propofol. The state planned to use propofol for an execution last month.
But Gov. 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 anesthetic if the United States used it in an execution, prompting an outcry among U.S. 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 in 2012. 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 U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey decision late 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 was convicted in eight murders altogether, but the Missouri case was the only one resulting in a death sentence. He is suspected in as many as 20 killings targeting blacks and Jews across the country from 1977 to 1980.
Franklin has also admitted to shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since the attack in 1978.
Franklin was in his mid-20s when he began drifting across the country. He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 1977. No one was hurt, but soon, the killings began.
He arrived in the St. Louis area in October 1977 and picked out the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the Yellow Pages. He fired five shots at the parking lot in Richmond Heights after a bar mitzvah on Oct. 8, 1977. One struck and killed Gerald Gordon, a 42-year-old father of three.
Franklin got away. His killing spree continued another three years.
Several of his victims were interracial couples. He also shot and killed, among others, two black children in Cincinnati, three female hitchhikers and a white 15-year-old prostitute, with whom he was angry because the girl had sex with black men.
He finally stumbled after killing two young black men in Salt Lake City in August 1980. He was arrested a month later in Kentucky, briefly escaped, and was captured for good a month after that in Florida.
Franklin was convicted of eight murders: two in Madison, Wis., two in Cincinnati, two in Salt Lake City, one in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the one in St. Louis County. Years later, in federal prison, Franklin admitted to several crimes, including the St. Louis County killing. He was sentenced to death in 1997.
In an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Monday, Franklin insisted he no longer hates blacks or Jews. While he was held at St. Louis County Jail, he said he interacted with blacks at the jail, “and I saw they were people just like us.”
He has made similar statements to other media but 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.
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