This is Joseph Paul Franklin. He’s reportedly confessed to 22 murders, at least 16 bank robberies, several non-fatal shootings and a number of other crimes. Most famously, Franklin was the man who shot porn magnate Larry Flynt (leaving him permanently paralysed) and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. Jr. (who also survived). Franklin, barring any last-minute legal victories, will die at the Easter Reception, Diagnostic and Correctional Centre in Bonne Terre, Missouri. Without a successful appeal Franklin will die by lethal injection just after midnight tonight, Missouri time. He’s a neo-Nazi, a racist, an armed robber, a serial killer and bombed a synagogue in Indiana simply because he hated Jews. Chances are that many people would say prisoners like Franklin are the reason the death penalty exists and, if anybody deserves to be put to death, Joseph Paul Franklin has earned it.
But Franklin does have some unlikely allies, most notably Larry Flynt, who will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair after Franklin shot him because his porn magazine ‘Hustler’ carried photo spreads of interracial porn. Most of Franklin’s killings and shootings were hate crimes, motivated by outright racism, anti-Semitism and a hard-line worship of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. Franklin’s victims were chosen for such pointless reasons as their race, their religion, the fact that they were in interracial relationships and, in Flynt’s case, because he published dirty pictures where the models weren’t all white. His many armed robberies were more prosaic, Franklin drifted from state to state, using only cash to avoid leaving any paper trail of cheques or credit card transactions. He didn’t even have an ATM card which made catching him even harder.
It’s unusual, but not unknown, for a condemned criminal’s victims or their families to come forward and speak out against a forthcoming execution. It’s even rarer for a victim as widely-known as Larry Flynt to enter the fray and speak against the execution of the man whose racism and violence left Flynt permanently disabled. In the United States there are a number of organisations composed of the relatives of murder victims who are against the death penalty and executing the criminals whose crimes caused them incalculable suffering. Groups such as ‘Murder Victims Families for Human Rights’ and ‘Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation’ actively oppose executions despite the fact that their members have often felt the pain of losing someone close to them. But it’s by no means the norm for those hurt most by a condemned inmate to come forward and campaign to save that inmate from execution.
There are some other unusual things about Franklin’s scheduled execution. In death penalty states the State Governor can often exercises ‘executive clemency’ even aft appeals courts have denied every appeal made to them. Even with minutes to go, after the US Supreme Court has decided not to issue a stay of execution, most State Governors (not all, but most of them) can still order an execution postponed, a death sentence commuted (usually to life imprisonment) or even an inmate’s release if there’s some last-minute, compelling evidence to do so. Missouri’s Governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, has made the unusual move of already denying clemency on November 18, a whole 2 days before Franklin is scheduled to die. State Governors don’t usually pre-empt the courts by denying executive clemency even before an inmate’s appeals are exhausted, but Nixon is very much pro-death penalty. He’s not immune to issuing stays of execution, he issued one for inmate Allan Nicklasson only last month (albeit because of ongoing difficulties concerning the supply of lethal drugs needed to actually perform an execution), but it was always going to be a long shot for Franklin, especially when you consider that Nixon was Missouri’s Attorney-General when Franklin was originally condemned.
Missouri hasn’t performed an execution since 2011 when Martin Link died for murder. It might be suggested, with a strongly pro-death penalty Governor, that Missouri might want to have some executions, not many, but some, just to remind criminals (and voters) that the State has teeth and is prepared to use them. With that in mind, if they want to make an example then it’s unlikely that many will mind if Joseph Paul Franklin happens to be next in line. Missouri has also had great difficulty in procuring new stocks of the drugs needed after European Union drug companies began refusing to sell them to Sates where they might be used for executions. This has irritated Missouri’s current Attorney General to the point where he threatened to reinstate the gas chamber if enough drugs can’t be obtained for lethal injections. The supply problem has become so severe that many States, including Missouri, have shifted from the old three-drug cocktail (sodium pentathol, pancuronium bromide and potassium chlorate) to using single-drug doses involving fast-acting barbiturates such as Nembutal (which will be used on Franklin barring any last-minute stays).
Franklin doesn’t want to die. Larry Flynt doesn’t want him to die. Anybody opposing the death penalty on general principle doesn’t want him to die. But it’s very obvious (and not to be ignored) that other victims and/or their families may feel differently and Missouri’s current Governor certainly wants Franklin to die.
In the absence (so far) of any sympathetic appellate judges and with the Governor having so openly and pre-emptively denied executive clemency, the fact that there are many who don’t want Franklin to walk his last mile is unlikely to make any difference at all.
Just after midnight, a minute or two into November 20, he almost certainly will.
EDITED TO ADD:
Late yesterday afternoon Joseph Paul Franklin recieved a surprise stay of execution courtesy of a Federal District judge. Unless the stay is overturned by a higher court by 11:59pm Missouri time tonight the State will have to apply for a new death warrant and set a new date.
UPDATE: The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals just overturned the stay. Franklin will die provided the execution can be performed before midnight today, Missouri time.
With the stay lifted, Franklin was executed with a single does of Pentobarbitol (Nembutal).