UPDATE: On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court denied an execution stay for Joseph Paul Franklin. The state carried out the execution Wednesday morning. Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m.
COLUMBIA — About a dozen people gathered Tuesday evening outside the Boone County Courthouse in protest of Joseph Paul Franklin's execution, which was scheduled for 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.
Even among the hard-core criminals on Missouri's death row, Joseph Paul Franklin is perhaps the most notorious, a cunning killer who 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. (This story is available to Missourian digital members.)
Shortly after protesters took up their signs, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a lawsuit Franklin filed with 20 other inmates challenging Missouri's execution methods must be resolved before his execution.
Jim Fieser, 50, was one of the protesters at the Tuesday gathering, which was organized by the Columbia chapter of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. He said he was happy to hear that Franklin's execution had been granted a stay.
"We're relieved that there won't be an execution in Missouri tonight," he said. "That's always a good thing."
Jeff Stack said it's wrong to kill a human being, regardless of the circumstances. He said he believes Franklin should continue to be incarcerated but should not be killed.
"I mean, if we had any knowledge of Gerald Gordon about to be shot by Joseph Franklin, obviously we would have intervened," Stack said. "We would have done whatever we could to stop that killing."
Franklin, now 63, was sentenced to death in 1997 for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in 1977. Franklin shot Gordon with a sniper rifle outside a synagogue near St. Louis.
Franklin has been convicted of several racially motivated murders, but only Gordon's resulted in the death penalty. He has taken responsibility for about 20 murders total.
Protester Ruth O'Neill, 53, said she was cautiously optimistic about the stay.
"I know that they can dissolve in the blink of an eye," she said.
The stay was granted by Judge Nanette Laughrey.
The Missouri Department of Corrections switched protocol from using a combination of drugs including propofol to using only pentobarbital earlier this month after the European Union threatened to prohibit trade of propofol if it were used for executions.
Laughrey wrote in her ruling that the Missouri Department of Corrections "has not provided any information about the certification, inspection history, infraction history, or other aspects of the compounding pharmacy or of the person compounding the drug."
If not for his stay of execution, Franklin would have been Missouri's first execution under the new protocol.
Several of the protesters at the courthouse Tuesday evening said they hoped the stay would hold.
"The state, instead of a public hanging like they used to do, they're trying to find this sanitary way to kill people, but it's still the same thing," said Laird Okie, 63. "It's just as immoral and useless as when they had public hangings."
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