ST. LOUIS — 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 is 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. He urged Missourians to remember Gordon and keep his family — and relatives of Franklin's other victims — in their thoughts and prayers.
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 was also attorney general in 1997 when Franklin was tried, convicted and sentenced in the St. Louis County case.
However, Nixon did issue a stay 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 if propofol 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 available 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.
Franklin was in his mid-20s when he began drifting across America 36 years ago, robbing up to 16 banks to fund his travels.
He bombed a synagogue in Chattanooga, Tenn., in July 1977. No one was hurt, but the killings began soon after that, many of them sniper shootings. Franklin has claimed as many as 20 victims.
He had a particular dislike for interracial couples — several of his victims were black men and the white women with them.
He arrived in suburban St. Louis and picked out Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue from the Yellow Pages. On Oct. 8, 1977, a bar mitzvah ended and guests were on the parking lot when Franklin opened fire from a grassy area nearby, killing Gordon.
Franklin got away and committed a string of other killings in several other states. He was caught after killing two young black men who were about to go jogging with two teenage white girls in Salt Lake City in August 1980. Years later, in federal prison, he admitted to the St. Louis County killing. He was sentenced to death in 1997.
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, telling The Associated Press he does not believe it is a deterrent.