In October 1977, Joseph Paul Franklin hid behind bushes overlooking the parking lot of Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel in Richmond Heights. With a rifle and a telescopic sight, Franklin fired five shots at people leaving a bar mitzvah, killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon of Chesterfield, and injuring another.
Seventeen years later, in 1994, while Franklin was serving six life sentences in a federal prison in Marion, Ill., he confessed to the shooting at BSKI. During an interview with Richmond Heights police, Franklin said he wished he “had killed five Jews with the five bullets,” according to court documents.
In January, 1997, Franklin was convicted of capital murder, and was sentenced to death by lethal injection.
Thirty years after the crime, Franklin’s case is still winding its way through the courts.
Last week, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Franklin’s appeal, overturning a 2004 decision by the U.S. District Court, which would have required the state to release or retry Franklin.
Franklin, who represented himself in his original trial, asked the jury at his sentencing hearing to give him death penalty, warning the jury that if they did not give him the death penalty, he “should kill somebody to make sure they do the next time,” according to court documents.
“Franklin told the jurors, he thereafter ‘decided that if you guys do not vote for the death penalty, that’s what’s going to happen. I’m already doing six consecutive life sentences already, plus some other time. And it would just be a total farce if you guys did not sentence me to death,'” court documents said.
Franklin waived his right of appeal in 1997 and, according to the court, he also sent a letter to the Missouri Supreme Court (which automatically reviews each death penalty case) in 1998, telling the court he did not want to appeal, and to “please set an execution date as soon as possible.”
However, despite Franklin’s original decision not to appeal, Franklin’s advisory counsel, lawyers appointed to assist Franklin in representing himself, filed a motion to appeal, even though Franklin himself refused to sign it, according to the court.
The Missouri Supreme Court reviewed Franklin’s conviction and sentence and determined that “Franklin’s punishment [was] neither excessive nor disproportionate in light of the crime and the strength of the evidence against him,” according to the court.
Court documents show that two months later, Franklin moved to file a late appeal authorization, saying he decided to appeal.
After the Missouri Supreme Court decided not to consider an appeal, Franklin appealed to the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Missouri.
The U.S. District Court judge granted Franklin’s appeal, based “on two grounds: Franklin’s waiver of counsel was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, and the trial court erred in failing to give a penalty phase jury instruction,” according to the court.
The state appealed and Franklin cross-appealed that decision.
The 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the district court ruling, arguing that Franklin was competent to represent himself during the trial and said that since Franklin was competent to stand trial, the appeals waiver Franklin signed in 1997 bars the court from considering Franklin’s appeal.
“We conclude Franklin’s voluntary waiver of his direct appeal resulted in procedural default and bars review of all of Franklin’s claims raised in this appeal […] The district court, therefore, was without jurisdiction to grant relief on Franklin’s claims.” the appeals court said in its ruling.
Franklin’s lawyer, Jennifer Herndon, said that Franklin would appeal the district appeals court decision.
Franklin has been linked to 18 murders, and other crimes between 1976 and 1980, most of which were racially motivated. He has admitted to firebombing a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 1977, and bombing the home of an Israeli lobbyist the same year. He is currently serving seven life sentences for murder.
BSKI’s Rabbi Emeritus Benson Skoff, recalled that the day of the shooting in 1977, he had headed for home after the Saturday morning Shabbat services.
“Somebody who was at the service knocked on my door, and when I opened it, she was crying and her husband was standing next to her, silent. She told me what happened,” Rabbi Skoff said.
“It was a terrible shock,” he said. “Things like that just didn’t happen back then.”