The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Wounded Victim of Racist Serial Killer Recounts Nightmare as Execution Nears

By Don Terry on October 21, 2013 - 2:46 pm, Posted in Anti-Black, Anti-Semitic, Extremist Crime, Hate Crime

Before Joseph Paul Franklin, the prolific racist serial killer, is executed, Terry Jackson-Mitchell wants to look the condemned man in the eye and tell him she forgives him for the nightmares and flashbacks that crashed into her life on a summer night in Utah 33 years ago.

That’s when Franklin wounded Jackson-Mitchell, then 15, and shot and killed her two black friends, jogging a few feet from her in a Salt Lake City park.

“I believe in the old saying, forgiveness is a gift you give yourself,” Jackson-Mitchell, now 49, told Hatewatch in a telephone interview Sunday evening.  “I forgive him based on what I’ve read about his horrific childhood. And I forgive him because I refuse to allow that night to define me.”

But her forgiveness only goes so far.

“I honestly wrestle with it, but I think he should be executed,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “I think he’s like a rabid dog. He’s suffered his whole life from cradle to grave. It just seems more humane to put him to death rather than let him live and suffer any longer.”

Franklin’s execution by lethal injection is set for Nov. 20 in Missouri. An 11th-hour  legal challenge could, however, delay his trip to the death chamber.

While Jackson-Mitchell wants the sentence to be carried out as soon possible, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt – whom Franklin has confessed to shooting, as well as then-civil rights leader Vernon Jordan – does not want Franklin executed. Even so, as he wrote last week in the Hollywood Reporter, he 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.”

Franklin has confessed to shooting Flynt in 1978 in Georgia because Flynt had featured a white woman and a black man in his magazine. Flynt was left paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

“I have had many years in this wheelchair to think about this very topic,” Flynt wrote. “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.”

A KILLER RECANTS 

Last week, in a series of telephone interviews with Hatewatch from the condemned unit at the Potosi Correctional Center in Missouri, Franklin, now a 63-year-old grandfather, apologized to his victims and purported to renounce his racist past and extremist beliefs.

But Jackson-Mitchell said when she read the Hatewatch interview with the former Klansman and neo-Nazi she was stunned and skeptical.

“It’s hard to believe that he’s completely denouncing his racism and wants to ask for forgiveness from his victims,” she said.

Her skepticism is steeped in blood.

On the night of Aug. 20, 1980, Jackson-Mitchell, who is white, was a high school cheerleader and honor roll student out for a jog with another white teenage girl, who does not want her name known. They were joined by two black friends, David Martin, 18, a recent high school graduate, and his buddy, Ted Fields, 20, a college student and minister’s son.

Franklin was 30 and nearing the end of a lone-wolf campaign of murder and mayhem that began in the summer of 1977 with the killing of an interracial couple of Madison, Wis. His goal was to spark a race war as he drifted across the country, robbing banks and gunning down blacks, Jews and interracial couples – in broad daylight at point-blank range in Wisconsin and from the tall weeds and distant shadows in Utah.

Franklin was obsessed with “miscegenation.”

“I still don’t like it,” he told Hatewatch. “But now I know it’s none of my business.”

IT WAS SURREAL

It was close to 9 p.m. when Jackson-Mitchell and her friends began to jog around Liberty Park. It was Jackson-Mitchell’s first time jogging, and she and her girlfriend lagged behind the young men, who did everything together, from playing sports to going to church.

A car pulled up alongside the girls. The driver asked them if they wanted a ride.

“He said he just wanted to talk,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “I just knew this man was scary.”

The man was Joseph Paul Franklin.

The girls said no and ran to catch up with the young men. Franklin drove off into the night.

After finishing their jog, the four friends headed out of the park. They were crossing a street when Jackson-Mitchell felt something hot strike her arm. She thought someone had thrown a burning a firecracker that hit her.

“My arm was immediately on fire,” she said. “Dave looked at me and said, ‘They got me.’ I thought he was joking. It was surreal.”

Franklin was shooting from the four-foot-high weeds in a nearby vacant lot. His first shot hit David Martin and apparently passed through his body. Jackson-Mitchell said she was wounded by fragments when the bullet hit the street.

“Dave turned and fell,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “We all caught him. The shots just kept coming.”

Franklin fired a half dozen times, hitting Ted Fields, “who told me to run,” Jackson-Mitchell said.

In a panic, she looked around for cover, some place to hide. She dashed toward the tall grass across the street.

She was running directly toward Franklin.

“I was five or 10 feet away from him,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “I can’t believe he didn’t kill me, too.”

The girls survived. The young men did not. Franklin vanished.

“Their families blamed us,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. I was alive and they were dead.”

There were whispers around town that the white girls had set up Ted and Dave. Jackson-Mitchell’s father was the president of a motorcycle club. Fingers were pointed at him, too. Jackson-Mitchell said white people asked her point blank, why was a pretty white girl like her hanging out with black boys? They warned her she was ruining her chances of finding a good white husband.

“Given the times,” writes Salt Lake City journalist Peg McEntee, “the racial divide was as deep here in Salt Lake City as anywhere in the nation.”

There were threats and strangers slowly driving past Jackson-Mitchell’s family home. The sniper was still on the loose.

“We couldn’t stand by the window,” she said. “It was pure hell.”

For her safety, Jackson-Mitchell’s parents moved her out of state to live with her grandparents.

“I lost a lot of friends,” she said.

The nightmares followed her.

SUFFERING IN SILENCE

Franklin has been convicted of killing eight people in his terrorist assassination campaign from 1977 to 1980, including Jackson-Mitchell’s friends. “Both of them, they were a joy,” Jackson-Mitchell said. “Dave was hysterically funny. You know that person in high school you can’t wait to see because you’re going to be laughing all day. He was just a light.”

Jackson-Mitchell testified at Franklin’s trials in federal and then in state court, where he received two life sentences. As she testified, she said she never took her eyes off of Franklin. He locked eyes with her only once.

All told, authorities believe Franklin may have murdered as many as 20 people across the country. But he has received only one death sentence. That was for the sniper killing of a 42-year-old Jewish man, Gerald Gordon, who was coming out of a synagogue in suburban St. Louis when he was shot and killed in 1977.

Jackson-Mitchell suffered in silence for years. She kept her past a secret. “I never told anybody,” she said, “that I was the girl shot for race mixing.”

She sought counseling and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. She fought hard to be a survivor, not a victim. Jackson-Mitchell has also been speaking out more and more about the evils of racism. She and the families of her murdered friends made up.

Every year she returned to the park on the anniversary of the shooting to say a prayer for her friends. A successful real estate agent, two years ago, Jackson-Mitchell went back to school and discovered the healing power of making art. She made a mask out of old newspaper clippings from that terrible night. The mask represented what she had been hiding from so long.

“I went back to where we were shot on the anniversary again this year and I didn’t feel sad,” she said. “I felt healed. I didn’t have the flashbacks I normally have. I think the art helps me find the voice of that 15-year-old girl I tried to bury alive. I think the art helped her be heard.”

The newspaper clippings she has left over from her mask project she plans to burn in the mountains, the night before Joseph Paul Franklin is put to death.

  • Kiwiwriter

    Terry, I am truly impressed by your depth of character and humanity in your words, your views, and your ability to rise above and survive an appalling atrocity.

    I wish I had that level of ability to forgive people who have committed far smaller misdeeds against me. I do not, but you do, and that shows an amazing strength of character, resilience, courage, and faith.

    I wish that the words and views of the people who call for peace could drown out those who call for violence. But the sad fact of history is that the gentle voices go unheard, and in many cases, are gunned down by the violent.

    I cannot forget that Lincoln, Gandhi, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sadat, and Yitzhak Rabin were all murdered, and Pope John Paul II nearly so.

    But Josef Stalin, Torquemada, Dzerzhinsky, Ferdinand Marcos, Don Agosto Pinochet, and Idi Amin, died in their beds.

  • Terry Jackson Mitchell

    Thank you for answering the question that has haunted me for 33 years.

    I’ve always felt a guardian angel was watching over me that night. Now I know it to be true.

    Thanks for the clarification and the kind words of support Ralph.

    Peace to you, too.

  • Ralph Echols

    Some 13 years ago I began writing a biography of Joseph Paul Franklin – for many reasons, that endeavor is still a work in progress.
    Over those 13 years, I have been in frequent contact with Franklin – usually by telephone. And you might remember that I spoke to you, Terry, a couple of times a few years back.
    Franklin told me, Terry, that he actually aimed his rifle at you and your friend Karma Ingersoll who was with you, Ted and David that terrible night. What kept him from pulling the trigger, he told me, was that street lights were shining in his eyes and you girls were running, making you a difficult target. When he noticed someone looking at him from a nearby house, he threw his rifle into the trunk of his car and took off. Terry, you don’t know how close you and Karma came to death that night.
    For what it is worth, Terry, Joseph Paul Franklin has asked me to apologize to you for what he did on that summer night in Salt Lake City in 1980. I can tell you that he sincerely does regret those shootings, and all the other crimes he committed against innocent people. He is genuinely remorseful, to the extent that he can actually feel remorse. Again, that’s for what it’s worth. He has repeatedly told me that he was mentally ill at the time he was on his “mission.” I certainly can’t argue with that, although he wasn’t so mentally disturbed that he didn’t know exactly what he was doing.
    You’re a beautiful woman, Terry, inside and out. I’m glad you’ve found the courage to talk about that dreadful experience that so impacted your life. I hope you’ll continue to write and make art. Peace to you.

  • Terry Jackson Mitchell

    Thank you Reynardine. I appreciate it.

  • Reynardine

    Terry, your words remind me of this line of François Villon’s:

    Mighty am I, though I’ve of power no share

    You may not rank high in earthly power, but you are mighty.

  • Terry Jackson Mitchell

    Four weeks from now he will be executed.

    I truly believe that JPF should be relieved of his suffering. His energy has been nothing but dark, evil and murderous. I equate it to an abused animal that can’t be stopped from killing and harming at will.

    I am not seeking revenge. If I sought revenge I would want him to die in prison in his 90′s. I am seeking the mercy for his suffering life.

    I think about what happens to our energy when we die. Energy doesn’t die it transforms. His energy is a black hole of hate. How could that be healed? I think of Martin Luther Kings quote, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only Light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only Love can do that.”

    Some people think of God as Light and Love. I am one of them.

    Maybe his dark energy could be transformed into light before he dies. I hate to think of his energy binding with more dark energy.

    He never knew love. As a child he was brutalized, starved, beaten under the peripheral vision of family members who didn’t help him. “It wasn’t polite conversation. It was none of their business.”

    He was a product of the village that turned their eyes to the suffering of an unprotected abused child.

    I am not making excuses for him. I can only forgive when I truly hear his narrative.

    But knowing how he was raised I understand how he grew up to murder the children in the village. Averting our eyes to the suffering of a child, doesn’t shield us from their pain.

    I pray for him.

    I pray he is sincere in his apology and renouncing of racism.

    I pray for his healing before he dies.

    I pray there is a God.

    I pray for reincarnation.

    I pray he is born to a loving nurturing family and is raised to value love and life.

    I pray for the end of child abuse, racism and apathy of the village.

    I pray for a TSUNAMI HEALING RIPPLE EFFECT in Humanity.

  • Reynardine
  • Linnea

    aadila,

    Well said. You took the words right out of my mouth.

  • JCP

    @aadila, that was a very pointed and well thought out explanation of your stance, and I agree.

    I don’t agree with vengeance but at the same time I don’t believe there’s any such thing as justice in a situation like this.

    I know what to do with him and everyone else that admits to killing and hurting someone. Allow them to commit suicide.

  • aadila

    Rey, your point is understood and I for one don’t quibble with it. But I don’t think it will deter anyone. Sometimes people even ask for the death penalty and I am not so sure they even value their own lives at all if they are so willing to throw it away in such a senseless fashion in the first place.

    One of the things about being principled, about truly having a robust philosophical and reasoned base for having a position about anything is being able to cope with exceptions that arise. I don’t actually just say “no death penalty”. I don’t hide behind it without being courageous enough to face reality. I look into the facts of each and every example.

    This is one of those cases where I feel it is a test of those principles. That guy makes me physically ill to look at. It breaks my heart to hear first hand accounts of those who suffered. It breaks it even more to think of those whose lives, hopes, dreams, aspirations, and potention he extinguished in an act of utmost cruelty and inhumanity. When I read his comment that he is still against “race mixing” it suggests he is playing for sympathy and that he is every bit as malicious and evil as he always was.

    But I still don’t support killing him. I don’t know what to do with him. But killing him doesn’t feel right, and it wouldn’t feel right if I did it, and it doesn’t feel right if someone else does it. It just doesn’t feel right.

    One thing I reflect a lot upon in cases such as these, when people sink to such low levels of depravity, is that once he was an infant, completely helpless and dependent upon others, seeking only to be held and to be comforted, with a potential to be anything. And then, this. It’s heartbreaking, but it has not extinguished my hope of my compassion.

    I personally feel there is some kind of law of cause and effect. That people cannot behave like this and expect that death will be a salve. Nor will life. One way or another he will pay. It is an inescapable fact of cause and effect. He cannot run from himself, it’s like a shadow following him now.

    But I also find another truth in all of this. That no matter what he did, no matter the ending of life, he did not end the _humanity_ of those suffering people. He did not end the _humanity_ of those who survived. We still have our humanity. This guy Franklin, he gave up his humanity. He made his choice. Let’s not give up our humanity for such a cheap price as this.

  • Malcolm

    Wow! What a powerful testimony. I’d like to say that we’ve come a long way from those days. The reality is, i can’t. There are still evil Joseph Franklins running loose. I can’t say with certainty that what happened in 1980 couldn’t happen today. We have a black POTUS, but at look how he & his family are treated. Wish i could be more optimistic, but I’m not. On the up side, glad you found a way to heal and that you’ve been successful. God bless.

  • Reynardine

    I see, from the dates, that my then-husband, a brown-skinned man born in Bangalore, and I could indeed have been in his sights. Perhaps we were, and something interfered. We were no more deserving of life or wholeness than those who lost theirs. And someone else might be out there, thinking what a fine sport this would be. Such people are ultimately selfish; their own lives are more to them than anything. If this execution keeps even one of them from pulling the trigger, I am not opposed to it.