published Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Chattanooga serial killer's daughter 'expected' execution

VICTIM'S SISTER REACTS

Barbara Vaughn's brother, William Bryant Tatum, died in 1978 after Joseph Paul Franklin shot him in the parking lot of a Pizza Hut in Chattanooga. On Wednesday, after friends told her Franklin died, she said the news did not impact her.

"I really don't have any feelings about that," she said. "I can't say that I'm happy. I can't say that I'm sad. I'm really not. My life has not changed because his life has ended. The change he caused in my life happened 35 years ago."

Audio clip

Joseph Paul Franklin

The night before the execution, Lori Gresham tucked a phone under the sheets in her Prattville, Ala., bedroom, just in case someone called. So when she heard ringing around 7 a.m., she answered immediately, still groggy.

"I want to talk to you about your dad," Gresham recalls hearing from Jennifer Herndon, an attorney.

About 45 minutes earlier, Gresham's father -- racist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin -- had been put to death in a Bonne Terre, Mo., prison. After declining to make a final statement, he received 5 grams of a drug called pentobarbital, swallowed hard and inhaled deeply five times.

Doctors declared him dead about 10 minutes later at 6:17 a.m.

When Gresham went to bed the night before, she thought her father's life had been spared. On Tuesday evening, a U.S. District Court judge gave Franklin, 63, a stay of execution. But an appeals court overruled that decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court then upheld the death penalty Wednesday morning.

"I'm mad about it," said Gresham, 34. "I'm mad about how they went about it. I'm mad that I didn't know about it. I'm mad that I was asleep."

To be clear, Gresham said, her father's crimes sicken her. From 1977-80, Franklin traveled the country, attacking Jewish people, black people and anyone who spent time around Jewish people and black people. He said he wanted to launch a race war.

Franklin was convicted of killing eight people, though he said he was actually responsible for about 20 deaths. He paralyzed "Hustler" publisher Larry Flynt and shot civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.

In 1977, he bombed the Beth Sholom Synagogue in Chattanooga, and a year later he returned here to kill a black college student who was dating a white woman. Franklin also was convicted of killing a man outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977, a crime that led to his death penalty sentence.

Before Wednesday, Herndon had filed three appeals seeking to halt the lethal injection. She said her client was mentally ill. She said that, when Franklin was convicted, the jury was given "faulty" instruction. She said there was concern about the use of pentobarbital, a drug that had never been used to kill an inmate in Missouri.

In the end, however, the appeals failed.

Growing up, Gresham vaguely understood what her father did. When she was about 8 years old, she and Franklin began communicating through phone calls and letters. Gresham's mother told her that Franklin was a killer.

But she didn't understand the extent of her father's crimes until she was 18, when she found paperwork detailing Franklin's killing career. Through online searches, she found groups praising her father as an American hero.

Sometimes, she'll go on white supremacist forums and argue with others. She'll tell them that she believes God loves everyone, that hatred has cost her a father.

Aside from when she was a baby, Gresham never met Franklin in person. And until a couple of weeks ago the two had not talked in years. Franklin, who described himself as a paranoid schizophrenic, began to scare his daughter. He warned her that another inmate was going to hunt her down and kill her.

But the two began talking again this month. On Tuesday morning, Gresham said, Franklin called again, just in case it was his last opportunity.

He told her she needed to start exercising more, that she needed to learn karate. When she said she was dating a younger man, he scolded her. In the end, he said he loved her.

"I feel bad about his victims, their families," Gresham said. "At least I kind of expected it, and I did get to talk to my daddy the day before he died."

Her whole life, Gresham blamed her father for most bad things that happened to her. God was paying her back for her father's sins, she thought.

  • photo
    In this file photo taken Monday, Oct. 19, 1998, Joseph Paul Franklin sits in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

But she said her father's crimes have not halted her friendships with black and Jewish people. They don't blame her for what Franklin did.

When she walked out of her house Wednesday morning, Gresham said, the first person she saw was a neighbor, a black man.

"They killed my daddy this morning," Gresham says she told him.

The neighbor paused.

"Well," he said. "I'm sorry to hear that."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com.

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