A federal judge has ruled the convicted killer of an Oregon corrections director must be retried or released from prison.
The April 18 ruling on the federal appeal for Frank Gable means the convicted killer of Michael Francke will be a free man unless the Oregon Department of Justice decides to retry the case, which is nearly 30 years old. Francke was killed outside his Salem office on Jan. 17, 1989.
"Gable shall be released from custody unless the State of Oregon elects to retry him within 90 days of the date of this order," United States Magistrate Judge John Acosta wrote in his April 18 ruling.
Acosta ruled that Gable was denied an adequate defense because his court-appointed attorney was prevented from presenting evidence that someone else committed the murder. At least one other person, Johnny Crouse, confessed to it with details only the killer could know before Gable was arrested. Crouse has since died.
Oregon Department of Justice Communication Director Kristina Edmunson said, "We are reviewing the opinion and evaluating our options."
The original conviction has long been controversial. The investigation went on for months and there was no DNA evidence tying Gable to the scene of the killing. Even before the trail, Francke family members were charging that corrupt employees within the correction division conspired to kill their brother to cover up drug dealing and other illegal activities. These theories continued to swirl even after Gable was convicted.
"Francke's family, his brothers Kevin and Pat, have been saying for years that their brother was killed because he had discovered corruption within his department and was going to clean house. Almost immediately after Francke's murder, the authorities in charge of the investigation denied this was so — but as is now clear, that was part of the cover-up. But they needed a patsy, someone to take the fall, and Gable was it," said writer Phil Stanford, who has covered the case from the beginning.
After the trial, Kevin Francke posted on his Facebook page, "My brother and I have been working toward this day for almost 30 years."
In his ruling, Acosta said, "Upon careful review of the voluminous record in this case and considering all of the evidence, both old and new and with due regard for its reliability, the court concludes that Gable has made a colorable showing of actual innocence sufficient to overcome his procedural default.
"Although the evidence presented at trial in 1991 resulted in a guilty verdict, the court concludes that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would find Gable guilty in light of the totality of all of the evidence uncovered since that time, particularly the newly presented evidence of witness recantations."
You can read the ruling here.
You can read a related Portland Tribune story here.
Editor's Note: Earlier versions of this story misspelled Michael Francke's name. The Tribune regrets the errors.
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