Joseph Paul Franklin has been spared the death penalty by a federal court. The serial killer, known for his white supremacy views, was granted a stay of execution just hours before his scheduled time of death by lethal injection in Missouri. Franklin, 63, had been scheduled for execution at the Bonne Terre, Missouri, state prison just after 12 a.m. on Wednesday.
Franklin has been blamed for murdering 22 people between 1977 and 1980 in a killing spree that targeted blacks and Jews. He was found guilty of seven murders, but received the death sentence for the murder of Gerald Gordon, 42 years old with three children, outside of a St. Louis synagogue in 1977. His motive for the killings was the desire to start a race war. He has admitted to attempting to murder the publisher of Hustler magazine, Larry Flint, in 1978. Although paralyzed in the assassination attempt, Flynt has called for Franklin to be granted clemency, saying, “The government has no business at all being in the business of killing people.” Joseph Paul Franklin has also taken credit for trying to kill civil rights leader Vernon Jordan in 1980.
His sentence of death by lethal injection is being challenged by Franklin, along with 20 other inmates on death row, whose argument that the first-time use of pentobarbital in the execution violates the constitutional ban against cruel and unusual punishment.
Missouri and other states with death by lethal injection have historically used three drugs to execute inmates. When drugmakers began refusing to sell the drugs to corrections departments and prisons, Missouri decided in April 2012 to use the drug propofol for its executions, and had scheduled propofol be used in a lethal injection last month. After the medical industry voiced strong opposition to the use of the widely used anesthetic in executions and the European Union (Europe produces most of the propofol manufactured today) vowed to limit its exports of the drug, Missouri governor Jay Nixon issued an order to the Department of Corrections to come up with a new method. Missouri then decided to use pentobarbital in its lethal injections, scheduling its first use for the execution of Joseph Paul Franklin.
Franklin’s lawyer, Jennifer Herndon, believes that because of the mental illness with which he has been diagnosed, he does not fully understand the implication of the death sentence or the stay.
Spared death today by United States District Judge Nanette Laughrey, Joseph Paul Franklin’s lawyers’ argument against the use of pentobarbital has been proven successful in its claim that the use of the drug comes with “a high risk of contamination and prolonged, unnecessary pain beyond that which is required to achieve death.” In her decision, the judge deemed a stay as being necessary to avoid the risk that Franklin’s execution would violate the Eighth Amendment against cruel and unusual punishment. Her ruling also criticizes the Missouri Department of Corrections for its plan to procure the drug from a compounding pharmacy without submitting any paperwork as to the pharmacy’s certifications or inspections records.
Given that Franklin’s death warrant allows for an execution to be done at anytime on Wednesday, there is a chance that it could still go forward, but only if the United States Supreme Court or a federal appeals court reverses the stay. For now, Joseph Paul Franklin has been spared death.
By Jennifer Pfalz