Wrongfully convicted of murder, Gable's innocence upheld
Frank Gable will not be going back to prison for the murder of an Oregon corrections director in the 1980s.
Gable had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the 1989 murder of Oregon corrections director Michael Francke. But a three-judge panel of federal judges of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Gable's successful appeal of his conviction on Thursday, Sept. 29.
In a 30-page ruling, the judges upheld Oregon U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta's 2018 decision that Gable likely was innocent and that no reasonable jury would convict him given new evidence presented in his appeal.
"The facts on appeal are extraordinary," Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote in the opinion. "Since trial, nearly all the witnesses who directly implicated Gable have recanted. Many explain they intended to frame Gable after hearing he was a police informant. They attribute their false testimony to significant investigative misconduct, which the State—remarkably—does not dispute.
"As Gable's expert explained, the investigators used widely discredited polygraph and interrogation techniques as a 'psychological club' to elicit the statements against Gable. The prosecution then built their entire case on that tainted foundation."
Acosta also ruled Gable did not receive a fair trial because jurors were not allowed to learn that a petty criminal named Johnny Crouse had confessed to the murder, with details that had not been publicly released months before Gable was arrested and charged with the crime. The three-judge panel cited Crouse's confession in their ruling.
"As discussed, Crouse's confessions have strong indicator of reliability. He confessed within months of the murder, multiple times, in several forms, to nearly unimpeachable witnesses and his family, with no apparent ulterior motive, and clearly against his penal interest," the new ruling said.
Francke's murder is one of the most high-profile killings in Oregon's history. He was stabbed in the heart and bled to death outside his office in the department headquarters known as the Dome Building on Jan. 17, 1989. Despite Crouse's confession, no suspect was charged with the crime until Gable, 15 months after the killing. Gable was convicted in 1991.
Crouse said he accidentally killed Francke during a scuffle when the corrections director caught him burglarizing his car. The confession was taken by Oregon Department of Justice criminal investigator Randy Martinek, who still believes Crouse was telling the truth. Crouse has since died.
They also noted nearly all witnesses against Gable have since recanted their testimony. As a result, the judges ruled, no reasonable juror would vote to convict Gable if the trial were held today.
Citing the same facts, Acosta ruled in 2018 that Gable should either be released from prison or receive a new trial. The Oregon Department of Justice appealed Acosta's ruling. Gable was released in 2019, but would have gone back to prison if he lost the state's appeal.
The Oregon Department of Justice told Pamplin Media Group on Thursday that it is reviewing the ruling.
"I am incredibly happy for my client," said Gable's attorney Nell Brown, who represented Gable alongside fellow public defenders Mark Ahlemeyer and Roscoe Brown." Although he will never get back the three decades of his life that he lost, this decision vindicates his steadfast claim of innocence and powerfully exposes the systemic flaws that led to his wrongful conviction. The Ninth Circuit decision makes clear that, with the full story told, no reasonable jury would convict him. I'm proud of our exceptional and dedicated Federal Public Defender team for doing the work to tell that story. I hope my client will finally be able to enjoy the life he has created for himself in the community without this case hanging over him," said Brown.
Both before and after Gable's conviction, rumors circulated that Francke was actually killed by a conspiracy of corrupt state officials that he was about to expose. The conspiracy theory was embraced by Francke's brothers Kevin and Patrick, who became the strongest supporters of Gable's innocence.
The conspiracy theory was the subject of a recent 12-part iHeart radio podcast called 'Murder in Oregon.' It was co-written by and featured former Oregonian and Portland Tribune columnist Phil Stanford, who was the first to report on it. KOIN 6 News also did an extensive special report on the case.
"This has been too long coming," Patrick Francke said. after the ruling was released. "I believe Mike Francke is pleased, because of his personal history as a deputy attorney general and district court judge and secretary of corrections, that no one should be wrongly convicted. The state of Oregon and Marion County DA have ignored the facts on favor of pursuing an agenda. It has cost Frank Gable over 30 years of his life. We're happy and excited for him and his family, but their lives will be forever scarred."
The Francke's have set up a GoFund Me campaign to raise money for Gable.
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