Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Monday denied a clemency request for white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, calling his crime a “cowardly and calculated shooting.”
Franklin, 63, is scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. It was one of as many as 20 killings committed by Franklin, who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980. He was convicted of seven other murders but the Missouri case was the only one resulting in a death sentence.
The execution would be the first in Missouri in nearly three years and the first ever in the state to use a single execution drug, the sedative pentobarbital.
“This cowardly and calculated shooting was only one of many senseless acts of extreme violence that Franklin, motivated by racial and religious intolerance, committed against numerous victims across the country –– from Tennessee and Ohio to Utah and Wisconsin,” Nixon said in a statement.
Franklin’s attorney, Jennifer Herndon, said she was disappointed by the governor’s decision.
Herndon has spent the days leading up to the execution asking various courts and the governor to intervene. Clemency from Nixon, a Democrat, seemed a long shot, given his long history of support for the death penalty. He also was Missouri attorney general in 1997 when Franklin was tried, convicted and sentenced in the St. Louis County case.
However, Nixon issued a stay of execution last month, days before convicted killer Allen Nicklasson was scheduled to die. That decision was in response to concerns raised about Missouri’s plan to use propofol as the lethal drug. The European Union had threatened to limit export of propofol if it was used in the execution, potentially creating a nationwide shortage of the popular anesthetic.
The Missouri Department of Corrections revised its protocol days later, changing to pentobarbital that will be made through a compounding pharmacy. Because the compounding pharmacy is part of the execution team, few details about it have been made public.
“I was encouraged by the way he reacted to the propofol and didn’t let that happen,” Herndon said of Nixon. “I think there are similar, if not more serious, concerns with the new protocol.”
Herndon’s motion before the Missouri Supreme Court raised concerns about what could happen if the drug doesn’t work properly, potentially leaving the inmate in pain or brain-damaged but not dead.
Amid court cases and the shortage of execution drugs, Missouri has executed just two men in the past eight years — most recently Martin Link in February 2011.
Herndon said Franklin, a paranoid schizophrenic, now regrets his crimes, having had a change of heart after serving time alongside black inmates.
In addition to the killings, Franklin has admitted shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt.
Flynt, paralyzed from the waist down since the shooting in 1978, has also sued to stop the execution, saying he does not believe it is a deterrent to crime.