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Investigative documents obtained by the Portland Tribune support the murder confession of another man that the jury never saw

COURTESY SALEM STTESMAN-JOURNAL - Frank Gable in prison with court records in an undated photograph.

The brothers of slain Oregon Department of Corrections Director Michael Francke are blasting the state for fighting the release of his convicted killer, whose conviction and life sentence were overturned by a federal judge.

"There is no sin in admitting a mistake; the sin is in refusing to admit the mistake," Kevin and Patrick Francke say of the 1991 conviction of Frank Gable by a Marion County jury.

On April 18, U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta ruled that Gable is probably innocent of killing Francke and did not receive a fair trial. Acosta has ordered that Gable either be released or be retried for the murder within 90 days. Gable's federal public defenders have requested his immediate release.

The brothers have never believed Gable was guilty, and now are calling on the Oregon Department of Justice to stop resisting his release. "Frank Gable deserves to be a free man, simple as that, and for once the state needs to do the right thing here," they said in a recent written statement.

The Oregon Department of Justice has appealed Acosta's ruling to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and have requested that Acosta stay his ruling during the appeal, which could take years to resolve. State justice department lawyers also say Gable must begin serving an unrelated federal firearms conviction if released from state custody. The justice department will only agree to Gable's release if he complies with numerous conditions, including wearing an electronic monitoring device and immediately surrendering to state custody if the appeal is successful or a new trial is scheduled.

Acosta has scheduled a hearing on the competing motions for Wednesday, June 26. Much of it will focus on his ruling. Among other things, it found that Gable's constitutional rights were violated when his lawyers failed to object, after the trial judge refused to allow a credible confession to the murder by another man be admitted into evidence.

CONTRIBUTED - Johnny Crouse

Johnny Crouse confessed to the murder just a few months after it happened, well before Gable was ever a suspect. The confession Crouse made to Oregon Department of Justice investigator Randy Martinak was included in the appeal filed by Gable's public defenders. It referenced information about the condition of Francke's body that had not been released to the public. Acosta commented on the potential significance of the confession during one of the hearings and cited it at length in his ruling.

Records reinforce confession

State lawyers are arguing that Crouse's confession should not have been admitted into evidence because he gave different versions to different people at different times, which is true.

But hundreds of pages of records from the original investigation recently obtained by the Portland Tribune show the story that Crouse told Martinak is much more detailed than previously reported, and closely matches the available evidence. And the records show that Crouse disavowed other versions of his story, which he described as trying to create deniability after first being questioned. Crouse died several years ago.

Francke was killed by a stab wound to the heart after an apparent struggle in the parking lot outside the corrections department headquarters in Salem on the evening of Jan. 17, 1989. The only known witness, a state custodian leaving work a short distance away, heard a noise and saw two men facing each other next to a car, then moving off in opposite directions. Francke was found dead next to the headquarters building the next morning.

The records obtained by the Tribune prove Crouse was within a few blocks of the corrections headquarters the day of the murder, visiting his parole officer. A woman who talked with him at the office described him as wearing the same clothes he later described to Martinak.

A prolific car thief, Crouse told Martinak that he broke into Francke's car outside his office with a wire that he frequently carried in his back pocket. Crouse said Francke caught him in the car and was going to have him arrested. When Crouse could not talk his way out of it, he tried to flee but Francke held him and the two started fighting in the parking lot.

Crouse said Francke was bigger and a better fighter than him. Crouse said he hit Francke with a roundhouse right in the left side of his head to no effect. When Crouse realized he was losing the fight, he said he pulled a knife out of his back pocket and began slashing at Francke to keep him back, cutting his arm at least once. Francke then made Crouse drop the knife, but he picked it back up. Now desperate to escape, Crouse said he stabbed Francke hard once in the chest.

"Crouse said he knew that the blow was a solid one as the wind went out of FRANCKE and FRANCKE said, 'Oh God' or 'Oh my God'" and just stood there. CROUSE said he withdrew the knife and ran," Martinak wrote in an April 13, 1989, report (capitalizations from the document).

The autopsy found the left side of Francke's face was bruised where Crouse said he hit him, a fact that had not been released to the public when Crouse confessed. According to the reports, Martinak later was able to confirm other things Crouse had told him, including evidence of unrelated crimes for which he had not been charged.

Other state and local investigators apparently did not believe the story Crouse told Martinak at the time, however, and he was not arrested for Francke's murder. But when Gable was later arrested, he was accused of killing Francke during a botched car robbery, the same story Crouse told Martinak.

Gable always maintained his innocence and no evidence connected him to the scene. Jurors convicted him without ever being told about Crouse's confession.

Learn more

You can read previous Portland Tribune stories on the case at www.Pamplinmedia.com/FranckeMurder.

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