Missouri executes white supremacist serial killer Joseph Franklin

White supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin put to death in Missouri in the state's first execution in nearly three years.

Joseph Paul Franklin in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court where jury selection was set to begin in his 1998 murder trial in Cincinnati.  Al Behrman / AP
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BONNE TERRE // Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death yesterday in Missouri.

Franklin, 63, was executed at a state prison for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a synagogue in St Louis, Missouri, in 1977. He was convicted of seven other murders across the country and claimed responsibility for up to 20, but the Missouri case was the only one that resulted in a death sentence.

Franklin also admitted to shooting and wounding the civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and the publisher of Hustler magazine, Larry Flynt, who has been paralysed from the waist down since the attack in 1978. Mr Flynt had sued to stop Franklin’s execution because he does not believe the death penalty is a deterrent.

Mike O’Connell, of the Missouri department of corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6.17am after being administered a lethal injection.

Franklin, a paranoid schizophrenic who grew up in Mobile, Alabama, was in his mid-20s in 1977 when he began drifting, robbing up to 16 banks to fund his travels.

He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in July that year. No one was hurt but the killings began soon after that, many of them sniper shootings.

Franklin had a particular dislike for interracial couples – several of his victims were black men and the white women with them.

He arrived in suburban St Louis and picked out Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the phone book. On October 8, 1977, a bar mitzvah ended and guests were in the car park when Franklin opened fire from a grassy area nearby, killing Gordon, 42.

The killings continued for three more years. Franklin was finally caught after killing two young black men who were about to go jogging with two teenage white girls in Salt Lake City in August 1980.

Years later, in federal prison, he admitted to the St Louis killing. He was sentenced to death in 1997.

Franklin, in the days leading up to the execution, said in several interviews that he was sorry for his crimes and was no longer a racist.

His lawyer had launched three separate appeals: one claiming his life should be spared because he was mentally ill; one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty; and one raising concerns about Missouri state’s first use of pentobarbital.

But Franklin’s fate was sealed early yesterday when the supreme court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted on Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri.

* Associated Press