Joseph Franklin Executed: Last-Minute Efforts to Halt Execution Overturned by Supreme Court


Joseph Franklin
  • Joseph Franklin

Joseph Paul Franklin -- a former white supremacist sentenced to death in Missouri for killing a man at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977 -- was executed early Wednesday morning after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned two stays of execution from two separate Missouri judges.

Updated at 7:35 a.m. with confirmation of Franklin's execution. Updated at 9:10 p.m. with second stay of execution.

Two federal judges separately stopped the execution late Tuesday night in an effort to give him time to challenge Missouri's execution order and protocol in court.

The supreme court upheld a federal appeals court ruling overturning the stays of execution without comment, according to the Associated Press.

Franklin was scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning (Tuesday night), but the legal maneuvering delayed the execution by six hours.

Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m. Wednesday morning. It took five grams of pentobarbital just ten minutes to stop his breathing, according to the Associated Press.

Governor Jay Nixon denied clemency to Franklin, calling his crimes "cowardly and calculated." The Missouri Supreme Court also denied Franklin's appeals.

In a surprise move, U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey granted a stay of execution late Tuesday afternoon to give him time to resolve his lawsuit claiming Missouri's new execution protocol is cruel and unusual punishment.

Read more about Laughrey's effort to stay Franklin's execution after the jump. "A stay is necessary to ensure that [Missouri's] last act against Franklin is not permanent, irremediable cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the eighth amendment," Laughrey wrote in her fourteen-page ruling.

U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey - VIA
  • via
  • U.S. District Judge Nanette K. Laughrey

Missouri quickly sought to appeal Laughrey's decision in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the Associated Press.

Just a few hours later, Judge Carol Jackson filed her own stay of execution, citing Franklin's claim that he is mentally incompetent to be executed, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Jackson's ruling noted that Franklin's execution had already been halted, but she added that Franklin's claims of mental incompetence deserve a separate court decision.

Franklin and twenty other inmates are challenging the constitutionality of Missouri's execution drug, which changed last month to pentobarbital after international outcry over the state's use of a common anesthesia, propofol.

See also: Death Penalty: New Missouri Execution Rules Prompt ACLU Lawsuit

But there's a problem with pentobarbital: The only place to get it is an unnamed, unregulated pharmacy, so there's no way know if the drug is contaminated or properly potent. The execution process is so secretive and elusive that Daily RFT (half-jokingly) suggested the state start using the guillotine instead.

See also: 5 Reason Missouri Should Use the Guillotine, Not Lethal Injection

If the pentobarbital is not clean or potent enough, Franklin and other prisoners executed with the drug could experience serious levels of pain before their deaths, say medical experts in Laughrey's ruling.

"What research [Franklin's lawyers] have produced in the little time afforded to them suggests a high risk of contamination and prolonged, unnecessary pain beyond that which is required to achieve death," Laughrey says.

Missouri overhauled its execution protocol in May and again in August, making major changes well into October before scheduling Franklin's execution for mid-November.

Given the strength of his argument and the permanent nature of the death penalty, Franklin deserves to live long enough to take his challenge to court, Laughrey writes in her ruling, offering a sharp and snarky civics lesson to Governor Nixon and state bureaucrats:

"That is how it is normally done in America, and it is a system that has worked quite well."

Read Laughrey's full ruling after the jump.

Joseph Franklin Execution Ruling

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at


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