State of Missouri v. Joseph P. Franklin

Executed November 20, 2013, 6:08 a.m.

969 S.W.2d 743 (Mo.banc 1998)

Joseph Paul FranklinCase Facts:  In September 1977, Franklin drove to Dallas, Texas after robbing a bank in Little Rock, Ark. Franklin, who believed that African-Americans and persons of the Jewish faith were “enemies of the white race,” had previously bombed a synagogue and another building, and had been considering for some time a plan to murder Jews by shooting them outside a synagogue.

While in Dallas, Franklin answered a classified advertisement and bought a Remington 30.06 rifle with a telescopic sight. He took the weapon to a firing range, where he “sighted in” the telescopic sight and practiced his marksmanship. After about a week in Dallas, Franklin drove to Oklahoma City, Okla., where he did more target shooting and searched for a synagogue that might be suitable for his plan. He ultimately decided not to carry out his scheme in Oklahoma City and instead chose St. Louis, Mo., which he believed to have a large Jewish community. In the last week of September or the first week of October 1977, Franklin drove to St. Louis and checked into a Holiday Inn. Franklin registered under an assumed name and feigned a hand injury to avoid leaving his handwriting in the motel records.

Over the next several days, Franklin made a number of preparations to commit his planned crime. He bought a city map and, using the Yellow Pages, located synagogues in the metropolitan area. He scouted out and rejected one synagogue because there was not a good place within shooting range to hide. Eventually, Franklin selected the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation, located at 1107 E. Linden Avenue in Richmond Heights, Mo., because there were bushes nearby where he could hide and fire from cover, and because the synagogue was close to a major highway.

In preparing for the crime, Franklin purchased a number of items, including some ten-inch nails, a guitar case and a bicycle. On or about Wednesday, October 5, Franklin rode his bicycle to the synagogue to see if the bicycle could be employed in making his getaway. Franklin hammered two ten-inch nails into the side of a telephone pole that stood amid the bushes where he intended to conceal himself, and wrapped cloth around the nails to serve as a rifle rest.

Franklin decided to make his attack that Saturday (October 8), because he anticipated that Jews would be attending the synagogue that day. Late the previous night (Friday, October 7), he used a power tool to grind the serial number off the Remington rifle that he had bought in Dallas because he intended to leave the weapon at the scene after the shooting. Franklin used a wet cloth to wipe off any fingerprints on the rifle, its ammunition and the guitar case, and he handled these items with gloves thereafter. He put the rifle into the guitar case and took the case to the bushes outside the synagogue, where he hid it overnight. At around 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. on Saturday, he returned to his hiding place near the synagogue and waited for someone he could shoot.

Beginning at around 10 a.m., a bar mitzvah was celebrated at the synagogue to mark the coming-o age of a teenage boy. Shortly before 1 p.m., some of the guests left the synagogue and walked toward their automobiles. As they did, Franklin opened fire. Forty-two year old Gerald Gordon, a married father of three, was struck in the left chest and fell to the ground. A man standing next to Gordon, Steven Goldman, was grazed on the shoulder. Some distance away, a third man, William Ash, was wounded in the left hand by another bullet. The surviving bystanders took cover. Franklin fired a total of five shots, some of which struck automobiles, trees and houses in the neighborhood. The victims had been shot from a distance of approximately one hundred yards.

Gerald Gordon and William Ash were both taken to the St. Louis County Hospital. Gordon was conscious at the hospital, but he died a short time later. The cause of his death was the loss of blood resulting from damage to his lung, stomach, spleen and other internal organs. William Ash suffered the loss of the little finger on his left hand.

After firing all five rounds from the magazine in his rifle, Franklin abandoned the rifle and the guitar case and rode his bicycle to a nearby parking lot where his automobile was parked. He left the bicycle in some bushes and fled St. Louis in his car, driving south on Interstate 55. Franklin had a police scanner in his vehicle tuned to St. Louis police frequencies, and he listened to radio calls that indicated an initial impression by police that the shots had come from a nearby high-rise building, the University Club Tower. When he later learned on the radio that only one of his victims had died, Franklin was “pretty upset” because “he wanted to kill as many Jews as I could.”

Over a period of years following the sniping attack, police were unable to identify the perpetrator. Forensic analysis established that the bullets and shell casings recovered from the scene had been fired from the Remington 30.06 rifle, but fingerprint tests on the rifle, the shell casings and the guitar case were all negative. The obliterated serial number on the rifle was deciphered and the weapon traced to a man in Texas, but police were unable to determine to whom it had been sold. Then in 1994, while serving six consecutive life sentences, plus a term of years at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, III., Franklin contacted an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and requested an interview. At the interview, after waiving his Miranda rights, Franklin confessed to committing the sniper shooting at the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation in October 1977.

Over the succeeding eight months, Franklin gave a series of statements to law enforcement authorities and to members of the media, explaining in detail how he had planned and committed this crime. During pretrial proceeding in the present case, Franklin described in open court and under oath how he had committed the shooting, and this testimony was also presented by the State at trial.

Franklin did not testify at the criminal trial, but recalled a State’s witness to provide further details about the police investigation. At the close of the evidence, instructions and arguments, the jury found Franklin guilty as charged of capital murder and two counts offelonious assault. In the punishment phase of trial, the State presented certified copies of Franklin’s convictions for the murder of two African Americans in Utah, the murder of an interracial couple in Wisconsin, and the bombing of a synagogue in Tennessee. Franklin presented no evidence, and urged the jury during the closing argument to sentence him to death. Thereafter, the jury returned a sentence of death upon Franklin, finding three statutory aggravating circumstances as a basis for consideration of capital punishment. The sentence of death assessed by the jury was imposed by the court, which also sentenced Franklin to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment for felonious assault.

At the time of his sentencing, Franklin executed a written waiver of the direct appeal from his conviction. Despite this waiver, a notice of appeal was filed by Franklin’s “advisory” counsel. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed. State v. Franklin, 969 S.W.2d 743 (Mo. banc 1998).

The jury found the existence of three statutory aggravating circumstances: 1) that Franklin had a substantial history of serious assaultive convictions; 2) that Franklin, by his act of murder, knowingly created a great risk of death to more than one person in a public place by means of a weapon which would normally be hazardous to the lives of more than one person; and 3) that the murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved depravity of mind.

Source: Information packet provided to media following executions. Updated on December 11, 2013. 

Joseph Paul Franklin was born on April 13, 1950 in Mobile, Alabama. On February 27, 1997, Franklin was sentenced to death for Murder 1st Degree and two counts of Assault with Intent for Great Bodily Harm with Malice in St. Louis County. Franklin was received in the Missouri Department of Corrections on February 27, 1997.

Legal Chronology


October 8 – Joseph Franklin shoots and kills Gerald Gordon


December 29 – Franklin is charged by indictment with capital murder, two counts of assault and three counts of armed criminal action.


January 27 – The jury trial begins.
January 30 – Jury returns verdicts of guilty of capital murder, assault and assault.
January 31 – Jury returns death sentence as punishment for capital murder conviction.
February 27 – The St. Louis County Circuit Court sentences Franklin to death for the murder conviction and life for the two assault convictions.
March 10 – A notice of appeal is filed


June 16 – The Missouri Supreme Court affirms Franklin’s sentence. State v. Franklin, 969 S.W.2d 743 (Mo.banc 1998)
October 9 – Franklin files a Rule 29.15 motion for post-conviction relief in the St. Louis County Circuit Court.


June 24 – The circuit court denies post-conviction relief.


June 27 – The Missouri Supreme Court affirms the denial of Rule 29.15 relief. Franklin v. State, 24 S.W.3d 686 (Mo.banc 2000)
October 16 – The Supreme Court denies discretionary review of the post-conviction appeal. Franklin v. Missouri, 531 U.S. 951 (2000)


September 27 – Franklin files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.


June 15 – The district court grants the petition for writ of habeas in an unpublished order.


July 24 – The court of appeals reverses the grant of habeas relief. Franklin v. Luebbers, 494 F.3d 744 (8th Cir.2007)


May 27 – The Supreme Court denies discretionary review of the habeas appeal. Franklin v. Luebbers, 128 S.Ct. 2501 (2008)


June 16 – The State requests an execution date from the Supreme Court of Missouri.


August 14 – The Missouri Supreme Court issues an execution date of November 20, 2013.