Harlowe: "I don't believe in murder whether done by an individual or by our society."
Serial murderer Joseph Paul Franklin is scheduled for execution Wednesday in Missouri for the 1977 killing of a man outside a St. Louis synagogue. Among Franklin's other victims were Madison residents Alphonce Manning Jr., a black man, and Toni Schwenn, a white woman, who were shot to death a month later in the parking lot of East Towne Mall. No suspect was identified at the time, but Franklin confessed to the crime in 1984 when serving a life sentence in the maximum-security penitentiary in Marion, Ill. for another racially motivated murder in Salt Lake City. (Hustler publisher Larry Flynt was also allegedly shot by Franklin in 1978.)
Despite concerns about cost and an escape by Franklin, former District Attorney Hal Harlowe brought the convict back to Dane County to be tried for the murder of Manning Jr. and Schwenn. After a five-day trial in 1986 in Dane County, Franklin was convicted of murder, sentenced to two more consecutive life terms and returned to Marion.
In an Isthmus cover story on the case, Harlowe said he was repulsed when listening to Franklin's confession.
"I've been practicing law for 18 years, and I've prosecuted and defended my share of violent crimes," Harlowe told David M. Freedman. "But I've never heard anything close to that level of cold-bloodedness in describing a homicide. There was not a flicker of remorse."
Harlowe left the district attorney's office after three terms and returned to private practice in 1989. Reached Monday at his downtown Madison law office at Murphy Desmond, Harlowe says that he first loathed Franklin, but ended up pitying him. And he does not wish to see him executed.
"I don't begrudge the families of the victims any feeling they might have or any comfort they might get from seeing someone like him put to death," says Harlowe. "In the end he was nothing more than a misguided thug with a gun." But, he adds, "I don't know that it ennobles society to put him to death. We have the capacity to take lives, but when you make the moral choice to not do that, I think that makes much more of a moral statement than ending the life of some punk. I don't believe in murder whether done by an individual or by our society."
Harlowe says it was important to bring Franklin to Dane County to be tried for his crimes here. Justice in this case required "a public and formal condemnation" of Franklin's behavior, Harlowe told Isthmus more than 20 years ago. "We don't grant a racist murderer immunity and impunity just because he's killed so many other people and he's serving a lot of time."
Harlowe says he got to know the Manning family well because of the trial. "They very much wanted justice," he says. "It was very important to them that [Franklin] be brought back and judged guilty in a very public forum and I think they were right." But, he adds, "they didn't want vengeance."