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Racist serial killer facing execution in Missouri

Published on NewsOK Modified: November 15, 2013 at 2:56 pm •  Published: November 15, 2013
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ST. LOUIS (AP) — No one knows exactly how many atrocities Joseph Paul Franklin committed as he crossed the country more than three decades ago, fueled by hatred of blacks and Jews. Along the way he bombed a synagogue, robbed banks, shot and wounded a porn icon — and killed, by his own account, nearly two dozen people.

Even among the hard-core criminals on Missouri's death row, Franklin is perhaps the most notorious, a cunning killer who picked out victims at random, using marksman skills to murder and maim from a hidden spot in a vacant building, a grassy field and a highway overpass.

"All of his acts were kind of cowardly," said St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, whose prosecution sent Franklin to death row. "He just hid in the weeds and shot people."

Franklin, 63, is scheduled to be put to death at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, the first execution in nearly three years in Missouri and the first in the state to use a single drug, pentobarbital. His attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said he is a paranoid schizophrenic who was badly abused as a child. She has asked federal and state courts and Gov. Jay Nixon to intervene. So far, all have declined.

Franklin did not respond to interview requests from the AP, but has told media outlets that he now regrets his crimes after getting to know black inmates in prison.

"He's done a complete 180 as far as his views," Herndon said. "He believes he should be kept alive so he could help other people overcome their racist views."

Franklin, born in Mobile, Ala., in 1950, was influenced after reading a stolen copy of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" as a child. By his 20s he was an avowed white supremacist and a small-time criminal drifting across America.

It wasn't long before the crimes took a deadly turn.

He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 1977. A Sabbath service let out just before the bomb exploded, and no one was hurt.

The first of Franklin's known victims were Alphonse Manning, a black high school janitor, and Toni Schwenn, Manning's white girlfriend, killed in Madison, Wis., during a 1977 road rage encounter with Franklin.

Months later, Franklin staked out a synagogue in suburban St. Louis. On Oct. 8, 1977, he carried his hunting rifle in a guitar case to a grassy field nearby, where he hammered 10-inch nails into the side of telephone pole to steady the gun.

As guests gathered in the parking lot to say goodbye after a bar mitzvah at Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue, Franklin fired five shots. One struck and killed Gerald Gordon, 42.

"It was a frightening crime because it was random," McCulloch said.

Franklin hopped on a bike, rode to his waiting car and sped away. The case was unsolved until Franklin confessed while in federal prison nearly 20 years later. Of all his crimes, it's the only one that led to a death sentence.

Franklin's cross-country crime spree continued for three years after the synagogue killing. He robbed banks — authorities suspect as many as 16 — to fund his travels.

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