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US serial killer faces execution; shot publisher

November 15, 2013

ST. LOUIS (AP) — No one knows how many atrocities Joseph Paul Franklin committed as he crossed the U.S. more than three decades ago, fueled by hatred of blacks and Jews. He bombed a synagogue, robbed banks, shot and wounded Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt— and killed, by his own account, nearly two dozen people.

He 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. “He just hid in the weeds and shot people.”

Franklin, 63, is scheduled to be put to death 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, says 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 Associated Press, but has told media outlets that he now regrets his crimes after getting to know black inmates in prison.

“He believes he should be kept alive so he could help other people overcome their racist views,” Herndon said.

Franklin 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.

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

Months later, Franklin staked out a synagogue in St. Louis. As guests gathered in the parking lot after a bar mitzvah, Franklin fired five shots from a field nearby. One struck and killed Gerald Gordon, 42.

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.

He has been convicted of seven murders, but has taken responsibility for at least 13 others.

Franklin had a particular dislike for interracial couples. In addition to the killings in 1977, he was convicted of shooting a black man and a white woman in 1978. The man died, and the woman was paralyzed. He reportedly killed a couple in Oklahoma City in 1979, and another couple in Pennsylvania in 1980. He confessed to killing a 15-year-old prostitute because the girl had black customers.

Franklin was caught for good about two months later in Florida.

Herndon said no one really knows how many crimes Franklin has committed.

“A lot of times he claims responsibility for stuff that there’s no evidence or proof of,” Herndon said. “I suspect he didn’t kill as many people as he’s confessed to killing, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

Franklin also confessed to shooting Flynt, the porn magazine publisher.

In 1978, Flynt was in Georgia on trial on an obscenity charge. Franklin, enraged by a Hustler photo of an interracial couple, staked out a spot in an abandoned building near the courthouse and fired a shot that left Flynt paralyzed from the waist down. Amid the chaos of the shooting, Franklin got away.

Ironically, Flynt has become one of the most vocal opponents of executing Franklin. Flynt, 71, told The Associated Press that while he hasn’t forgiven Franklin, he doesn’t think capital punishment is the answer.

“I’ve got to think about this guy every day, every day that I get in this wheelchair. It would be easy for me to say, ‘Yeah, kill him, he shouldn’t be on the Earth,’” Flynt said. “But if you analyze that decision, it’ll always come up short.”

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