On March 6, 1978, a racist gunman in Lawrenceville shot Hustler publisher Larry Flynt and Gwinnett lawyer Gene Reeves.
Flynt, now 71, remains paralyzed from the attack. Reeves survived and is a retired Gwinnett magistrate judge. [File photos of shooting scene]
The gunman, Alabama native Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was executed Wednesday morning in Missouri.
Flynt had asked the court to spare the life of Franklin, 63, who was executed for a 1977 murder outside a synagogue near St. Louis.
“My opinion on the death penalty hasn’t changed for decades,” Flynt said on NPR. “I just don’t think that government should be in the business of killing people. And I think punishment by putting someone in a 3-by-6 cell is a lot greater than if you snuff out their life in a few seconds with a lethal injection.”
The porn mogul wrote a column in The Hollywood Reporter explaining his beliefs. He said he never met the man who sentenced him to life in a wheelchair, but “would love an hour in a room with him and a pair of wire-cutters and pliers, so I could inflict the same damage on him that he inflicted on me.”
Franklin was born in Mobile, Ala., in 1950 as James Clayton Vaughn, Jr. At age 26 he changed his name to honor Nazi propaganda minister Paul Joseph Goebbels and founding father Benjamin Franklin.
Shortly after the name change he began shooting.
A member of the Ku Klux Klan, he roamed the East Coast looking for opportunities to “cleanse the world” of inferior people.
Several of his targets lived in the Atlanta area.
In 1978, Atlanta police believe Franklin shot and killed Johnny Brookshire, who was walking with his pregnant, white wife near their home on Blue Ridge Avenue.
In 1979, police believe Franklin shot a black cab driver talking to a white woman near Piedmont Park.
“He knew facts about the murders that only the murderer could have known,” Atlanta Police Major Keith Meadows told 11 Alive News. “He was able to tell us exactly what the victims were wearing at the time the shooting took place.”
DeKalb police believe Franklin killed 15-year-old Mercedes Masters in 1979 for having sex with a black man.
On July 12, 1979, Franklin said he killed Taco Bell manager Harold McIver in Doraville. Franklin thought McIver, a black man, dated white women.
On May 29, 1980, Franklin said he shot civil rights activist Vernon Jordan Jr., a native of Atlanta who later became a close adviser to President Bill Clinton. Jimmy Carter visited Jordan in the hospital, which was the first story covered by a new cable news network in Atlanta called CNN.
Franklin finally got caught after killing two young black men in Salt Lake City in August 1980.
Implicated in at least 22 shootings, he was eventually convicted of eight murders: two in Wisconsin, two in Ohio, two in Utah, one in Tennessee and one in Missouri. He was sentenced to death in Missouri in 1997.
Franklin targeted Flynt because Hustler magazine published pictures of a black man with a white woman.
In the AJC archives I came across the work of my former co-worker Bill Montgomery, who, after the shooting, interviewed Flynt in his clothing-optional California mansion.
Montgomery wrote that Flynt ran afoul of Georgia’s anti-pornography laws in 1977 when he set up a news stand on Peachtree Street and personally began selling copies of Hustler. He was charged with distributing pornography in Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
During a lunch break in the Gwinnett trial, Flynt and his attorney were shot while walking back to the courthouse from V&J Cafeteria. Franklin’s .44 slugs hit Flynt twice and Reeves once.
Gwinnett dropped all charges against Flynt, but he had to stand trial in Fulton in 1979. The wheelchair-bound publisher was fined $27,500 and given an 11-year suspended sentence.
Franklin was not named as a suspect in the Flynt case until March 6, 1984, exactly six years after the shooting.
In a 1984 AJC article, Gwinnett police said Franklin contacted them by letter in 1983 and asked them to visit him in an Illinois prison. During that visit, he admitted to shooting Flynt. Police said Franklin was in the area at the time because he rented a hotel room and purchased a car.
Franklin, in a CNN prison interview, said he killed blacks because he wanted to spark a race war.
“I thought once I started doing it, and showed [other white supremacists] how, other people would start doing it,” said Franklin. “I thought I was doing the will of God.”
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