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Federal judge rules convicted killer of Oregon corrections head must be retried or released within 90 days.

ILLUSTRATION BY SARA DEL ROSARIO - U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta watched an animation of the killing of Oregon Department of Corrections Director Michael Francke during a November 2016 appeal hearing with federal public defenders and state prosecutors.

The brothers of the murdered Oregon Department of Corrections director are calling for the immediate release of his convicted killer. Kevin and Patrick Francke say last Thursday's ruling by Oregon U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta proves Frank Gable is innocent of killing Michael Francke on Jan. 17, 1989.

In response to an appeal filed by the local Federal Public Defender Office, Acosta said it is unlikely Gable would be convicted today with the new and additional evidence presented by his current lawyers. That evidence includes a detailed confession by someone else before Gable was arrested and recantations by nearly all of the witnesses against him after the trial.(Image is Clickable Link) Click here to see related stories

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."

Kevin and Patrick Francke responded in a written statement Friday, April 19: "The state can no longer afford to manufacture a case built on lies and half-truths, and we trust that they will abandon this fruitless endeavor and concede that they convicted an innocent man. They made a mistake. The sooner they do this, the better, and justice will be served!"

Acosta ordered that Gable be either retried or released within 90 days. The Marion County District Attorney's Office, which prosecuted Gable because the killing took place in Salem, said it is reviewing its records on the case before making a decision.

Retrying the case would be daunting challenge. In addition to recanting their testimony, some of the witnesses against Gable have died. And Acosta ruled his lawyers would be able to introduce the confession of petty criminal Johnny Crouse, which was recorded and written up by a state investigator, even though Crouse has since died.

Gable, a petty Salem criminal, was convicted of stabbing Michael Francke to death after being caught breaking into his car outside the corrections department headquarters. That is the same story Crouse originally told, although he subsequently withdrew it. As Acosta noted when the confession was first presented to him, Crouse knew details about the killing that had not been publicly released.

Gable has consistently denied the killing and no physical evidence ties him to the scene. He was sentenced to life without parole.

"Our client has spent nearly 30 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit. Always maintaining his innocence, he has waited a long time for the day he would be exonerated. He put his faith in our team. While those lost years cannot be restored, Judge Acosta's ruling finally has brought Mr. Gable the justice he has hoped for," Lisa Hays, head of the federal public defender office, said Friday.

Kevin and Patrick have long charged that Michael was killed by corrupt department employees who feared he was beginning to investigate them. Although Acosta's ruling did not support that theory, they are still convinced it is true — and that Gable was wrongly convicted to cover up the truth.

"I'm not a great believer in conspiracy theories, but I do believe there was a small cadre, perhaps only two or three in total, who guided the process out of fear of what might be unearthed in the digging," Patrick said.

In September 1989, then-Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt appointed retired Oregon Court of Appeals Judge John Warden to look into the charges. After a three-month investigation, Warden found that "there are reasonable grounds to believe that some officials of the Department of Corrections are involved in significant illegal activities or other wrongdoing." In his report, Warden said he found no connection to Francke's killing, however.

You can read previous Portland Tribune stories about the case at pamplinmedia.com/FranckeMurder.

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