U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

White Supremacist Serial Killer Joseph Paul Franklin Executed

The week prior to Thanksgiving, Missouri executed Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist serial killer who targeted African Americans and Jews. He was also responsible for shooting Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine.

His execution, held on November 21 in Missouri, was rife with controversy and spurred legal debate on capital punishment for the mentally ill and the use of certain drugs in executions.

Joseph Paul Franklin

The execution came soon after Larry Flynt, was paralyzed in the 1978 shooting, unsuccessfully begged the court to spare his attacker's life. Technically, however, Franklin was executed for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack on a St. Louis synagogue in 1977, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Franklin, who took his first names in honor of the infamous Nazi propaganda minister, was convicted of seven other murders and claimed responsibility for up to 20 others in racist killing sprees across the country from 1977 to 1980.

He was executed at a state prison in Bonne Terre, Missouri. Franklin was the 35th inmate executed in the U.S. this year and the first in Missouri in nearly three years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

String of Failed Appeals

Franklin's lawyer pursued three appeals in the hope of halting the execution. They questioned whether Franklin should be killed because he is mentally ill, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. They also argued the jury instruction was faulty in the death penalty phase of his murder case and questioned the use of the single drug, pentobarbital, for the execution.

But the U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied a request to step in and halt the execution, thereby keeping in place an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that overturned two stays granted by district court judges in Missouri.

A centerpiece of the appeals included concerns about the use of pentobarbital.

Compounded Pentobarbital Controversy

Franklin was the first inmate in Missouri put to death under the state's new execution protocol. Due to a lethal injection shortage and concerns over the use of propofol, Missouri switched its execution drug in October to compounded pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, reports the Times.

The practice is controversial because drugs mixed in compounding pharmacies are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Critics further contend use of the compounded drugs could result in needless suffering and botched executions.

Franklin was among nearly two dozen plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Missouri's new execution protocol as cruel and unusual punishment. But with the Supreme Court's lack of involvement and Franklin's execution, states like Missouri are pressing ahead with use of the drug.

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