Larry Flynt Is Not Trying to ID Missouri Executioners, ACLU Argues

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Larry Flynt with a friend in 2016. The porn publisher had a hearing in a St. Louis court today. - SHUTTERSTOCK/KATHY HUTCHINS
  • SHUTTERSTOCK/KATHY HUTCHINS
  • Larry Flynt with a friend in 2016. The porn publisher had a hearing in a St. Louis court today.
Larry Flynt's fight to obtain the secret records of his attacker's Missouri execution is now in the hands of a panel of federal appellate judges.

The firebrand publisher of Hustler magazine has tried for years to pry loose documents that would apparently describe the state's process for putting people to death. We say "apparently" because even the state's motion to keep the records secret was filed in secret. It's hard to say what exactly they contain.

The ACLU of Missouri argued on Flynt's behalf this morning in St. Louis in front of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, urging the judges on the panel to open the records — and met a grilling.

Judge C. Arlen Beam questioned ACLU legal director Tony Rothert's argument that the U.S. Constitution gives the public the right to certain court records.



"You're saying you can come in and look at my letter file and the First Amendment lets you do that?"

Rothert says they're not making the case for all records — but rather ones that have traditionally been open to the public. At the very least, he says, the public should have the right to ask and have a hearing.

Flynt, who was not in court this morning, was shot in 1978 by a white supremacist, who had changed his name to Joseph Franklin in honor of Ben Franklin and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In a killing spree that lasted more than three years, Franklin primarily targeted black and Jewish people. Arrested in 1980, he was sentenced to death for the 1977 murder of Gerald Gordon, which he committed during a sniper attack on a synagogue in the St. Louis suburb of Richmond Heights.

Flynt survived his brush with racist serial killer, but he was paralyzed from the waist down. He unsuccessfully fought the execution of Franklin.

Even now, more than four years later, he continues to fight to get the state's secretive Department of Corrections to release documents about the process used to kill his assailant.
Missouri executed Joseph Franklin on November 20, 2013. - MISSOURI DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Missouri Department of Corrections
  • Missouri executed Joseph Franklin on November 20, 2013.

The state has resisted, claiming the records could identify an anesthesiologist and other members of the execution team. Public exposure could open them to harassment and "frustrate" the state's ability to put people to death in the future, according to the argument.

See Also: Missouri DOC Loses Sunshine Lawsuit of Execution Drug Secrecy

But Rothert says Flynt is not trying to identify the execution team, noting that the court could redact members' names before releasing the rest of the information. In the past, the ACLU has filed open records requests and fought the state for Corrections documents.

Each time lawsuits have managed to force records into the public, the results have revealed the state was hiding "unsavory" information, Rothert says.

Decisions in the appellate cases often come within three or four months, but the three-judge panel sets its own schedule.

We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.