CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- White supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, who confessed to the 1980 murders of two women in Pocahontas County, was put to death early this morning in Missouri.
Franklin, 63, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977, The Associated Press reported. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders and claimed responsibility for up to 20, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m.
The execution began more than six hours later than intended, and it took just 10 minutes.
Franklin's lawyer had launched three separate appeals: One claiming his life should be spared because he was mentally ill; one claiming faulty jury instruction when he was given the death penalty; and one raising concerns about Missouri's first-ever use of the single drug pentobarbital for the execution.
But his fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri.
The rulings lifting the stay were issued without comment.Franklin, 63, is a self-proclaimed "born killer" and took pride in being a neo-Nazi and white supremacist. He believed interracial marriages were a sin against God and took it upon himself to punish the guilty. He preferred sniper attacks and killed for sport.
Franklin was convicted and sentenced to two life sentences for the June 1980 killings of African-American teenagers Darrell Lane, 14, and Dante Brown, 13.
He has confessed to killing an interracial couple in Johnstown, Pa., and shooting and crippling Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt because of an interracial photo shoot.
In total, he is said to have killed at least 22 people between 1977 and 1980. All of the murders targeted minorities.
He has since recanted those beliefs in more recent interviews with CNN and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On June 25, 1980, Franklin admitted to using a .44 caliber Ruger pistol to kill hitchhikers Nancy Santomero, 19, of New York, and Vicki Durian, 26, of Iowa. They were headed to a gathering of a back-to-nature group, the Rainbow Family, in the Monongahela Forest in Pocahontas County.
The Rainbow Family is a group of individuals committed to principles of nonviolence and world peace. They hold their annual festival in national parks.
Franklin confessed to the "Rainbow Murders" in 1997 to an Ohio assistant prosecutor, Melissa Powers, in the course of investigation in another case. Powers is currently a judge for the Hamilton County Municipal Court District 7 in Ohio.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Powers described sitting down with Franklin on death row in Missouri in 1997.
Franklin was on Missouri's death row for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
"It was absolutely terrifying," Powers said. "I went from handling minor parking offenses to sitting in front of a monster responsible for killing dozens of innocent people. I was holding my breath and tried not to act like I was afraid."
Powers' boss asked her to help connect Franklin to the shooting deaths of the two Cincinnati boys.
For 17 years, Franklin refused to speak about the homicides. The Hamilton County, Ohio prosecutor's office decided to use Powers to lure Franklin into speaking.
"Joseph Franklin is a ladies man," Powers said. "I was one of a few females in the office so we all thought we may have a chance to get a confession if one of the females spoke to him. It worked."
Powers' main objective was to get a confession in the Cincinnati case. She never expected a slew of confessions to homicides spanning 10 states.
"What was interesting about Franklin is that he expressed no emotion when he described the murders," Powers said. "He was very flat and didn't feel bad ... he had it in his mind that he was justified in killing the victims. He claimed he had a purpose and a reason to kill.
"I looked into the face of evil. I was scared the whole time. He looked at me and said he could kill me before the guards could get here.
"It was definitely frightening."
Powers studied Franklin before the meeting, including FBI documents and other records. She learned that his mother was very abusive and that Franklin was deeply respectful of her.
Powers said Franklin wanted to go back to his cell following the confession.
"He looked at me and said, 'I want to set the record straight. I know someone else was convicted in the 'Rainbow Murders' case in West Virginia."
A few days later, Powers called Franklin and he confessed to killing the two hitchhikers in the wilderness at Briery Knob on Droop Mountain in Pocahontas County.
"I committed the Rainbow Murders, you know," Franklin told Powers. "The Rainbow killings were a little different ... cause I just picked them up hitchhiking."
"He went into great detail," Powers said. "It was definitely too much at times. He told me he killed the two women after one of them said she had a black boyfriend. I wasn't too familiar with the homicides in West Virginia so there was a lot of pressure to ask the right questions to aid in the investigation."
Following the "Rainbow Murders," rumors abounded, including one that a local had murdered the girls because residents of the rural community were angry that the Rainbow group had selected their area for the gathering.
In July 1982, 36-year-old Jacob Beard came under suspicion because of some telephone calls he placed to Durian's parents.
Beard was well known by most area residents. At the time, he worked at Greenbrier Tractor Sales in Lewisburg. He claimed he went to work and attended a school board meeting the day of the murders.
Beard, however, became more suspicious when he began telling bizarre stories about the case, including one in which he claimed a third shooting victim was dumped into a corn chipper on his property.
Then-Prosecutor Walt Weiford told police that two men told him they saw Beard kill the women.
Beard, who had moved to Florida, was brought back in 1993 for a trial that ended in a guilty verdict. He was convicted in Greenbrier County (the case was moved there because of publicity).
Beard served nearly six years in federal prison before he was granted a new trial.
Pam Pritt, former executive editor of the Pocahontas Times, covered Beard's trials. Pritt said the communityi had mixed reactions.
Prior to Beard's first trial, his lawyers sought to introduce the confession of Franklin, who at the time was serving three life sentences at a federal penitentiary in Marion, Illinois.
On March 1, 1984, Franklin told a Wisconsin Department of Justice officer he had killed two women in West Virginia and provided a hand-drawn map of the location. He later gave a similar statement to federal agents.
When State Police interviewed Franklin, he initially denied involvement, but then took responsibility and abruptly refused to talk further.
The trial judge barred the evidence as hearsay and unreliable and on June 4, 1993, Beard was sentenced to life without parole.
In 1995, the West Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the convictions, but remanded the case for a hearing to determine whether any of the evidence had been developed from leads Beard provided.
In 1996, a judge ruled that the evidence was properly obtained and the ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals in 1998.
Lawyers for Beard then filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus. They presented a sworn deposition from Franklin saying he had killed the women.
In January 1999, the writ was granted and a new trial was ordered. Beard was released on bond.
A jury in Braxton County acquitted Beard on May 31, 2000. Beard later filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit against Pocahontas County authorities and in January 2003, agreed to a $2 million settlement.
Franklin has never been tried for the "Rainbow Murders."
Jerry Dale, former sheriff of Pocahontas County, was quoted in a 1999 Cincinnati Enquirer report as saying, "There's no doubt in my mind that Beard did it."
Franklin's confession hasn't changed his mind, he told the Daily Mail Tuesday.
"If you look at the forensic and ballistic evidence, it is not consistent with Franklin's statement," he said. "I've worked in prisons myself and I know how inmates work. There's a society within a society."
Franklin read about the murders in a true crime magazine, Dale said.
"He got the number of times the victims were shot wrong," he said. "The trajectory of the shots - nothing makes sense."
Beard was raised in the Pocahontas County community of Hillsboro. Dale knew Beard and, "if you look into his background there's a lot of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde stuff going on."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.