On March 6, 1978, as I stood on the steps of the Georgia courthouse where I was fighting obscenity charges, a series of gunshots rang out. I remember nothing that happened after that until I woke up in the intensive care unit. The damage to my central nervous system was severe, and it took several weeks before doctors could stabilize me. From then on, I was paralyzed from the waist down, and have been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
Years later, a white supremacist named Joseph Paul Franklin was arrested for shooting and killing an interracial couple. He soon began confessing to other crimes, and that’s when he admitted to having shot me. He said he'd targeted me because of a photo spread I ran in Hustler magazine featuring a black man and a white woman. He had bombed several synagogues. He had shot Vernon Jordan Jr., the civil rights activist. He hated blacks, he hated Jews, he hated all minorities. He went around the country committing all these crimes. I think somebody had to have been financing him, but nothing ever turned up on who that somebody may have been.
In all the years since the shooting, I have never come face-to-face with Franklin. I 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. But, I do not want to kill him, nor do I want to see him die.
Supporters of capital punishment argue that it is a deterrent which prevents potential murderers from committing future crimes, but research has failed to provide a shred of valid scientific proof to that effect whatsoever. In 18th century England, pickpocketing was a capital offense. Once a week, crowds would gather in a public square to observe public hangings of convicted pickpockets, unaware that their own pockets were being emptied by thieves moving among them. That’s a true story, and, if you’re ever trying to convince somebody of why the death penalty is not a deterrent, that’s a good example.
As far as the severity of punishment is concerned, to me, a life spent in a 3-by-6-foot cell is far harsher than the quick release of a lethal injection. And costs to the taxpayer? Execution has been proven to be far more expensive for the state than a conviction of life without parole, due to the long and complex judicial process required for capital cases.
Franklin has been sentenced by the Missouri Supreme Court to death by legal injection on Nov. 20. I have every reason to be overjoyed with this decision, but I am not. I have had many years in this wheelchair to think about this very topic. As I see it, the sole motivating factor behind the death penalty is vengeance, not justice, and I firmly believe that a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.