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Franklin answered long-lingering questions in Salt Lake Tribune interview

Published November 18, 2013 11:23 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Whenever we interview a prison inmate and write a story from that interview, we hear criticism from some who question why we would ever publicize the thoughts and words of a felon.

Why be insensitive to the victims? Who cares what motivated a crime? Why spread hate and deprevity?

We ask ourselves these same questions before we ever even seek to interview perpetrators whose actions we are painfully aware forever change the lives of victims and their families.

Reporter Brooke Adams certainly thought long and hard before her hour-long interview last week with Joseph Paul Franklin, who is scheduled for execution in Missouri just after midnight Wednesday.

That no-holds-barred interview is the subject of a story published in Sunday's print edition and available online here.

Franklin, a serial killer, is set to die by lethal injection for the Oct. 8, 1977, murder of Gerald C. Gordon outside a Richmond Heights, Mo., synagogue.

Our interest in him stems from another of his many racially motivated murders: The Aug. 20, 1980, slayings of David Martin and Ted Fields outside Salt Lake City's Liberty Park, where the two African-American men had been jogging with two white women.

The 33-year-old crime "brought the heartbreaking, unnerving revelation that racist violence could detonate in our little city on a placid summer night," editor and publisher Terry Orme wrote in a Sunday column about Adams' story.

"To think that such an atrocity could happen just down the street, that two young men could be gunned down in the heart of Salt Lake City because they were with people of a different color — it was inconceivable. But it happened."

Franklin never before the interview with Adams had said how Salt Lake City ended up in his deadly path.

The reason? He earlier had converted to Mormonism — one of a number of religions he had tested. His newfound faith led him to Utah in 1975 and he returned later — shortly before the Salt Lake City murders — disillusioned by that time by the LDS church's "attitude on race" after it admitted blacks to its lay priesthood in 1978.

During the interview, Franklin also answered a question posed by Johnnie Mae Martin, David's mother: "How did you feel after you shot my son?"

His response? "At the time I shot her son, I was just out of my gourd," Franklin said, "so I just considered that another operation, mission accomplished."

Those are hard words for a mother — or any of us — to hear, yet they do lend understanding — as harsh as it is — to a crime that many Utahns remember.

That's why we interview murderers: to answer questions that linger long after life-changing events.

Perhaps our reporting will bring closure to some who long have sought it in this case.

Often, as in the case of Adams' interview with Franklin, those answers make news.

We'll be writing more about Franklin, his victims and their families this week.

It's no small thing for a state to execute a prisoner, and The Tribune always will report and write about such events as thoroughly as we're able.

We take such coverage seriously, understanding there's plenty of emotion around Franklin and his crimes in particular, and around the debate over the death penalty more generally.

Our goal as always is to inform that debate.