After forgiveness, family of Utah serial killer's victim has closure
Monticello, Miss. • Forgiveness came long ago.
On Wednesday, six hours after her son David's killer was put to death in Missouri, Johnnie Mae Martin found closure.
Under a brilliant blue Mississippi sky, Martin gathered with two dozen friends and family members at the Monticello First Baptist Church Cemetery the town's black cemetery to leave purple-and-white flowers on David's grave and offer a prayer of peace and a song of faith.
"I feel sad because of why we are doing this, but I feel better now," she said. "It's like a burden has kind of been lifted off of me. It really is."
Joseph Paul Franklin, 63, was pronounced dead at 5:17 a.m. MST Wednesday at the state correctional center in Bonne Terre, Mo., after an all-night legal battle that began with stays issued by two federal district courts.
The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned those decisions, and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its ruling early Wednesday, allowing Missouri to put Franklin to death using a lethal injection of pentobarbital.
Franklin was executed for shooting Gerald C. Gordon outside the Brith Sholom Kneseth Israel synagogue in Richmond Heights, Mo., on Oct. 8, 1977.
He did not give a final statement. A media witness said that as the injection began, Franklin swallowed hard, breathed heavily several times and then lay still. The process lasted 10 minutes.
"The cowardly and calculated shootings outside a St. Louis-area synagogue were part of Joseph Paul Franklin's long record of murders and other acts of extreme violence across the country, fueled by religious and racial hate," Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement after the execution.
Franklin engaged in a cross-country killing spree between 1977 and 1980 aimed at taking out Jews, African-Americans and interracial couples, whom he considered "enemies of the white race."
He was convicted of eight murders and claimed responsibility for killing or injuring a dozen more people.
David Lemar Martin III was just 18 in 1980 when he and friend Ted Fields, 20, were fatally shot by Franklin as they were leaving Salt Lake City's Liberty Park with two white female friends.
Martin, now 73, and her husband David learned of the shooting from one of their son's friends, who lived near the park and called to tell them of the ambush. Martin said her husband raced to the scene from their home on 900 South, just six blocks west.
Martin said her husband called a short time later from the hospital to say their only son was dead. Word traveled quickly to family here in Monticello, which now has 1,500 residents, and in the adjacent town of Silver Creek, population 209, where the couple grew up, met and married.
"The reaction here was so hurtful, shock," said Juanita Brown, Martin's sister-in-law. "The only thing we could do was just pray."
Racial segregation was persistent and hard to shake in the two countryside towns, Brown said. It spurred Martin and her husband to move from Mississippi to Utah in the early 1960s. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had yet to be passed; school desegregation was a work in progress.
In Monticello, there were still "white" and "black" drinking fountains, bathrooms, restaurants, schools and entrances to buildings, including the stately Lawrence County courthouse, which sits along the city's main street and once served as the school for white children.
Martin, whose family farmed in Silver Creek, said that as a child she was allowed to go into Monticello to catch a 10-cent movie, but "we were told don't bring any trouble to our family. My grandmother told me when a white person comes down the sidewalk, step off. I had to do that."
Martin said when she was about 16, someone spit on her as she walked along the street.
"We did not want our son to grow up under the conditions we grew up under," Martin said of the couple's decision to move West. "I didn't want him knowing black here and white there."
Her husband, with help of a relative, got a job at Thiokol in Brigham City; Martin followed months later with their then 7-month-old son.
"I cried every day for six months," Martin said. "I didn't see any black people, for one thing, [and] I thought the mountains were going to fall in on me. I couldn't breathe well."
She missed her mother, Maggie Mae Washington, now 93, and her grandmother, Jossie Brown, who largely raised her. But they told her to stay by her husband and she did.
She soon gave birth to their second child, daughter Denna. The family eventually settled in Salt Lake City.
Martin's husband, who passed away three years ago and is buried near David in the Monticello cemetery, worked mostly as a machinist and truck driver in Utah. Martin worked as a case manager for the Utah Division of Child and Family Services and then Juvenile Corrections, retiring with nearly 30 years of service.
As they had hoped, there was less, but not zero, racism in Utah.
"That's everywhere," Martin said.
David Martin attended South High for just "a minute" before his parents enrolled him at Judge Memorial Catholic High School to keep him out of trouble. He had just graduated and, like his friend Ted Fields, was working at Northwest Pipeline that summer.
David was set to begin studies in the fall at the University of Utah, where his mother was already working on a degree in sociology. They planned to take statistics together because he was great at math and Martin was not.
David, a "jolly" person, wasn't yet sure what he wanted to do with his life, she added.
"I often wonder what he would have grown up to be," Martin said as she stood near her son's grave Wednesday.
Three weeks before her son's murder, Martin dreamed David had been shot as he cruised his car a Plymouth, she thinks along State Street in Salt Lake City, then a popular pastime for teens. She told him about it.
"He said, 'If anyone wants to shoot me they can because I'm not bothering anybody,' " she remembers. "Three weeks later, he was gone."
When Martin recalls the last days of her son's life, she starts with the way he performed "Everything Must Change" at New Pilgrim Baptist Church on Sunday, where Ted Fields' father was the pastor.
Three nights later, David attended choir practice while his parents went to a Bible study class; they returned home just as David and Ted were getting ready to go jogging at Liberty Park.
David put on a Judge Memorial T-shirt and jogging pants.
"That's when I really noticed my boy was a big man," Martin said. "He leaned over and kissed me. â¦ Ted said, 'We'll be back.'"
Franklin, who had been stalking an interracial couple and was waiting for them to come out of a convenience store, saw the four young people about 10:15 p.m as they crossed 900 South at 500 East.
"They were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Franklin said last week.
Franklin said he swung his rifle and "dropped" first one of the young black men and then the other.
Martin said their home phone rang once at 10:28 p.m., stopped, and then rang again. Her husband answered it.
She heard him say, "at the park" and then "both of them?"
He was gone out the door before Martin had a chance to make sense of the news.
Martin said her husband called a short time later with word their son was gone.
"I would not wish that on my worst enemy," she said. "To have him taken away from me, and I wasn't there to pick his head up and talk to him as he was going through it I cannot explain."
Martin said her own mother had just one response when she called that night: "She said, 'Bring his body home.'"
Martin said her husband never spoke much about their son's death until he was in failing health, and then he regretted that David wasn't there to help her.
As for Franklin, "we forgave him a long time ago as a family because we know it's not going to bring our son back," said Martin, who opposes the death penalty. She went to bed Tuesday night believing the Lord had intervened and given Franklin more time, perhaps to make more apologies.
At the cemetery she stood alongside friends and family to, as Pastor Larry Lenoir of Monticello First Baptist said, bring closure to a life that was dear to them all.
No one knows what tomorrow brings, Lenoir said.
Tears came as her sister-in-law led the group in singing "Take My Hand, Precious Lord."
"I'm glad she's found closure," said James Hill Sr., a longtime family friend, after Wednesday's prayer service. "At least she can rest in peace knowing the killer has been taken care of. Even though we have forgiven, justice has been served."
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