Killer tests whine reflex in courtroom

Thursday, April 30, 1998

BY LAURA PULFER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

franklin
Joseph Paul Franklin talks with attorney Dale Schmidt in a Hamilton County courtroom Tuesday.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |

There really wasn't much to see.

Skinny with tattoos on both arms, Joseph Paul Franklin was dressed in prison sportswear, which looks like surgical scrubs except the short-sleeved shirt and drawstring pants are grayish-blue instead of green. Matching sneakers. Stubble of beard. Glasses. Short, dirty brown hair.

He is charged -- this time -- with killing two kids, boys 13 and 14 years old. He has admitted shooting and paralyzing Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and wounding Washington insider and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan. He claims to have killed 21 people and has been convicted on several murder counts.

A year ago, he told the Enquirer that Dante Evans Brown, 13, and Darrell Lane, 14, both of Bond Hill, were victims 12 and 13 in a murderous binge that lasted from 1977 through 1980. Mostly, he killed adults.

Crying the blues

"They didn't look like little kids to me," he said of the cousins from Cincinnati. "It was dark out."

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters said Joseph Paul Franklin hid on a railroad trestle with a high-powered rifle waiting for an interracial couple. "Finally, I guess he got tired of waiting and decided these kids would be good enough."

The prisoner has changed his mind. Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty. Further, he says his handcuffs were too tight and guys are looking at him in the shower. He doesn't like the accommodations at the Hamilton County Justice Center.

He thinks his restraints are too severe. "I can't get through a locked door," he said, although he has promised to try just that, and a piece of metal was found hidden in a pants leg when he arrived here Saturday.

By my watch, he whined for three minutes and 47 seconds. I didn't catch it all. It was hard to hear over the clicking of the cameras. A tall, good-looking man sat quietly, twisting his long fingers and occasionally shifting on the uncomfortable wooden pew.

He is the uncle of one of the slain boys.

"He's crying the blues now, but he's getting it easy. Real easy," Gary Trumbo of Walnut Hills said. "This has been a long 18 years for us." Surrounded by reporters, impatient at some of the questions, "Of course, I want to see him punished."

The avenging angel

Well, you can kill somebody only once. The serial murderer has been sentenced to death in Missouri and is facing multiple life sentences elsewhere. So what is he doing here?

"I don't have faith in Ohio's justice system," Mr. Deters said, "so why should I trust what might happen in Missouri? If we can help make sure he is never out walking around again, that's what I want to do."

Critics have questioned the expense of this trial. Surely we don't want prosecutors calculating the cost of justice: Oh, that serial rapist will be pricey. Let's go after the burglar.

The prosecutor said he alerted the families of both boys before he brought charges. "I didn't want this to come at them out of the blue. After talking to them, I can tell you that this is not over for them. Not yet."

Sometimes people look like what they are. Joe Deters, with blue eyes that can turn icy and a helmet of blond curls, looks like an avenging angel. "Do I take these cases about kids personally?" he said. "I plead guilty. I can't help thinking of my own kids." Joseph Paul Franklin looks like the kind of guy who wouldn't pick a fight in a barroom but who would kick a dog. A little dog.

The trial will be big here. Probably long. Surely expensive. Inevitably front-page news. The lead story. I heard one of the TV people call him "Joe Paul Franklin." That sounds kind of chummy to me. I hope nobody tries to make him interesting or clever. Something he's not.

He had no real plan. Just a rifle with a scope. And darkness. Twenty-one people he says he has killed. I looked at him.

There really wasn't much to see.

Previous stories

RACIST KILLER CONFESSES TO SLAYING TWO BOYS HERE April 15, 1997
SNIPER FEARED OHIO ELECTRIC CHAIR April 16, 1997
FRANKLIN THOUGHT MESSAGE MISSED April 16, 1997
CASE CLOSED April 16, 1997
''REIGN OF TERROR'' April 16, 1997
HIGH FASHION PROSECUTOR GETS HER MAN Cliff Radel column, April 18, 1997
FRANKLIN: THERE COULD BE SURPRISES April 18, 1997
SERIAL KILLER HERE FOR PROSECUTION April 26, 1998
FRANKLIN PLEADS NOT GUILTY April 26, 1998

Laura Pulfer's column appears in the Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM), and as a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. E-mail her at laurapulfer@enquirer.com

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