A white supremacist was executed in Missouri for killing a man at a St. Louis-area synagogue 25 years ago.
Joseph Paul Franklin, 63, was executed early Wednesday morning for the sniper shooting of Gerald Gordon, who was killed outside of the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue in October 1977 as he left a bar mitzvah. Franklin also was convicted of seven other murders throughout the United States and claimed credit for 20 deaths between the years of 1977 and 1980.
The execution had been stayed Tuesday evening by two district court judges due to concerns over the drug used for the execution. The US Supreme Court early Wednesday morning upheld the death sentence and the use of the drug, leading to the execution.
Franklin also bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July 1977.
The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Missouri could proceed with Franklin’s execution, just hours after a lower court blocked the execution and claimed Missouri’s disputed lethal injection protocol must be resolved before the execution could go forward.
The appeals court’s ruling overturns US District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey, who 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.”
After Laughrey ruled in his favor, Franklin’s attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said Franklin’s mental illness was likely keeping him from comprehending the developments.
Franklin was convicted of seven other murders, but the Missouri case was the only one resulting in a death sentence. Franklin also has 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.
Like other states, Missouri long had 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 an outcry from the medical profession over planned use of the popular anesthetic in an execution. Most propofol is made in Europe, and the European Union had threatened to limit exports of it.
The corrections department turned to pentobarbital made through a compounding pharmacy. Few details have been made public about the compounding pharmacy, because state law provides privacy for parties associated with executions.
Missouri has joined other states in choosing pentobarbital as the drug of choice. Texas switched to a lethal, single dose of it in 2012. South Dakota has carried out two executions using the sedative from a compounding pharmacy. Georgia has said it’s also taking that route.
Franklin was in his mid-20s when he began drifting across the country. He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 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.
Overall, Franklin was convicted of eight murders: two in Madison, Wisconsin, two in Cincinnati, two in Salt Lake City, one in Chattanooga, Tennessee, 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.