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Joseph Paul Franklin's racist murders shattered Salt Lake's innocence, investigators say

Judge issues stay just 7 hours before scheduled execution

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 20 2013 3:37 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — It was a case that some believe shattered part of the city's innocence.

"I think it was something that most people in Salt Lake just couldn't believe," said Salt Lake County deputy district attorney Bob Stott. "I think people almost felt like, 'Are we becoming like these big cities now? Are we having this kind of fear and this kind of violence?'

"I think it was a time when we just stopped and thought maybe life isn't as sweet or as secure as we thought it was."

On Aug. 20, 1980, David Martin, 18, and Ted Fields, 20, were shot and killed while jogging with two women in Liberty Park. The unknown assailant with a high-powered rifle sat in a vacant field, behind a hill, just outside the park boundaries.

The motive: Martin and Fields were black and the women were white.

Serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, 63, the man convicted of murdering Martin and Fields, was scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in Missouri just after midnight on Wednesday morning.

But late Tuesday afternoon, a federal judge granted a stay of execution. U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughery ruled that a lawsuit filed by Franklin and 21 other death-row inmates challenging Missouri's execution protocol must first be resolved.

Franklin, a drifter from Alabama, will be put to death for the 1977 sniper shooting of Gerald Gordon at a bar mitzvah at the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel Congregation in suburban St. Louis. He was sentenced to death in 1997.

Although he was convicted of one murder in St. Louis, in a recent interview with CNN, Franklin admitted that he had killed about 22 people across the United States between the late 1970s and 1980. He has been given six life sentences, including two in Utah for the deaths of Martin and Fields. Franklin was also responsible for the 1978 shooting of Larry Flynt that left the Hustler magazine publisher permanently paralyzed.

Franklin's hate-filled, cross-country killing spree, which he claimed was done in an effort to start a race war, ended in what seemed at the time to be the most unlikely of places, Salt Lake City.

Retired Salt Lake police detective Don Bell was the lead investigator in the Franklin case. He said like many others in the city, he was shocked by the racially motivated shootings of the two black men.

"It was kind of a wake-up call," Bell said. "Wake up in that we can't just pretend we have this nice little idyllic place where we're residing. Bad things that take place in other areas actually take place here. I mean, if someone back in 1980 said if they were going to pick a place where a racial killer was going to come and target black people, I don't think Salt Lake City would have been at the top of the list."

As police started to retrace Franklin's footsteps, they quickly learned he was a man filled with hate and rage.

"That rage pretty much controlled everything about his life — even his daily actions and judgments," said Stott, who was the lead prosecutor in the state case against Franklin. "He was a very angry, surly, uneducated guy who couldn't get along with people. He went through a string of defense attorneys because he just couldn't treat them right."

In the short time that Franklin was in Utah, Stott said investigators learned that he would ask motel employees if any black people had stayed in a room before deciding whether he would check in there. In at least one case, Stott said Franklin checked into a Salt Lake motel, then checked out a short time later and demanded his money back when he learned that a black person had previously slept in his bed.

At restaurants, Franklin would check to see what color the cooks and servers were before he'd sit down, Stott said.

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