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).
It’s rare that I get to combine two of my biggest interests in the same scribble, so I thought I’d indulge myself. This is Roy James AKA ‘The Weasel.’ Roy was, like so many aspiring racers, big on ability but short on cash. Even in the 1950’s and 60’s racing was still the most expensive sport on the planet. It wasn’t the business that it is today but to go racing at all, let alone have any chance of winning anything, you needed to either be spotted and hired by a factory team or spend your own money. Lots of it. Roy was a silversmith when he wasn’t racing cars, stealing other people’s cars to sell them on and burgling wealthy people’s houses, but he’d never earn enough to pay for competitive cars and top-of-the-range parts and he knew it.
Roy had the talent. Even other racers at the time who became big names, drivers like Mike ‘The Bike’ Hailwood and three-time F1 World Champion Sir Jackie Stewart, thought he was naturally gifted. He was fast, sensible, brave but not reckless and raced hard without racing dirtily. He had the talent, just not the cash or a big team to provide it. He did have a talent for cat burglary, though, and it was swag that funded his racing. Jewellery, silver, gold, uncut gems, Roy wasn’t fussy as long it sold well and it sold well enough that he could buy a car from another triple F1 champion, Sir Jack Brabham.
Fast forward to 1963 and the Great Train Robbery. Roy had a minor role. He was there to provide his driving skill in case a quick getaway was needed, to provide an extra vehicle or two if needed and to help uncouple the mail van from the rest of the train. Nothing violent and nothing heavy, no waving guns or beating up train guards. In the absence of a backer with deep pockets or a team with big plans, Roy saw it as his best shot at getting all the cash he’d need to make it as a Formula One driver. It didn’t get him his shot at the big time. It did get him a 30-year jail sentence.
Roy was also supposed to ehlp clean up the gang’s hideout at Leatherslade Farm. He didn’t do a very good job. When police found the hideout they also found fingerprints (one of them was Roy’s), gloves (which con often be turned inside-out and dusted for prints), wrappers used for holding bundles of notes together and all sorts of other goodies. It was only a matter of time before the gang would be doing some time of their own. Plenty of it. After most of the gang had been arrested Roy was about ready to turn himself in. At least he would have turned himself in if the police hadn’t turned up and dragged him off to jail.
Most of them got very long sentences. Roy’s was one of the longest. He drew five years for conspiracy and twenty five for mail robbery. The robbery itself netted £2.6 million but Roy’s share was only one-sixteenth of that, around £162,5000 (although that bought a lot more in 1963). Sounds good at first, until you think about thirty years in a maximum-security prison. Roy ended up serving only 12 years before being paroled in August, 1975.
When he finally got out Roy, incredibly, still thought he had a chance of becoming a big-name racing driver. He contacted an old rival (double World Champion Graham Hill) and current Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Both of them told him, as kindly as possible, that racing had moved on so much in twelve years that if he’d ever had a chance he certainly didn’t any more. Ecclestone threw him the occasional bone. Having been a silversmith Roy was perfectly up to designing trophies. It was just that those trophies would always be presented to other people. Roy had a few more races, making up the numbers in uncompetitive cars, but the dream was dead. He ended up back inside after shooting his father-in-law and pistol-whipping his wife and in 1993 drew another six years. He finally died in 1997, not long after his release.
‘I have come to the conclusion that executions solve nothing, and are only an antiquated relic of a primitive desire for revenge which takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people.’
Britain’s former chief public executioner Albert Pierrepoint in his 1974 memoir ‘Executioner: Pierrepoint.’
I know, I know. There wasn’t meant to be another post today, it’s just that something occurred to me while considering the role of a public executioner in relation to the attitudes and beliefs of the ‘Hang ’em and flog ’em’ brigade. It doesn’t just apply to British folk with a fondness for the noose, though, but to death penalty supporters everywhere and they’re probably going to find this offensive.
Question: What’s the difference between an executioner and a professional assassin?
Answer: Almost Nothing.
A hitman is employed, either as part of a criminal organisation such as the Mafia or the Triads or on a freelance basis, to dispose of people on behalf of their employers. Their victims are people that their employers consider a threat, dangerous, undesirable or otherwise worth having killed. Whether on orders or for a fee, the assassin is a skilled professional whose profession is causing the deaths of people marked for death at the behest of others. They’re private contractors working out of criminal loyalty or for personal profit. They don’t have a legal mandate and they’re not public servants.
An executioner is also a skilled professional whose profession is the disposal of people deemed a threat, dangerous, undesirable or otherwise worth having killed. It’s just that the executioner is employed by the State and does have a legal mandate to kill professionally. They don’t do it for the pay (which is seldom high), they don’t do it on a whim, but they are essentially contract killers in public service rather than private practice.
It’s not as though an executioner can claim the same defence as a member of the armed forces or an armed police officer. They don’t have the easily-understood, ready-made justification of defending themselves and their colleagues. They can’t say ‘It was him or me.’ It is, after all, pretty difficult to claim with a straight face that somebody securely strapped into an electric chair or tied to a post in front of a firing squad poses a direct physical threat. No, executioners and assassins are both employed to perform the pre-determined, clinical disposal of other people by whoever engages them to do so.
Now, where does that leave the ‘Hang ’em and flog ’em’ brigade? In their view of themselves, doubtless at a safe ethical and moral distance from either professional assassins or those who employ them. Contract killing, those who do it and those who hire them are somehow something different and removed from ‘respectable’ society. Those involved are a lower class of human. By hiring one person to dispose of others those involved are evil, violent, cruel, selfish, morally and ethically bankrupt.
Curious then, isn’t it, that the moral majority think their own willingness to do exactly the same thing is so different. Anybody who offers a briefcase full of used banknotes to some backstreet gunman is a bad person. Anybody who gives an executioner a legal warrant and a far smaller fee is defending society from the forces of darkness. Yet they’re engaged in exactly the same process. An order’s given, a payment’s made, somebody dies. The difference between public service and private practice remains, but the similarities remain exactly the same.
If you support employing professional killers as public servants, seeking to protect yourself against people you consider enough of a threat, then you’re no different to a private citizen who feels threatened enough that they resort to hiring a hitman. You may choose to dress it up in legalistic finery, but that also comes with its own measure of hypocrisy. You might like to think that hiring somebody else to do the dirty work for you somehow distances you from it, that your hands are somehow cleaner.