Michael Francke's brothers, E. Patrick Francke, 76, and Kevin Francke, 65, have waited more than 30 years for resolution of their brother Michael's murder on Jan. 17, 1989.
At the time of his death, Michael Francke served as the director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. A former judge, he'd been recruited by then-Gov. Neil Goldschmidt to come to Oregon to both clean up the state's allegedly corrupt prison system and also oversee a dramatic expansion of its archaic and over-crowded prisons.
Francke was stabbed to death in a brightly-lit parking lot outside his Salem office around 7 pm. Police searched in vain for his killer for more than 15 months before arresting Frank Gable, a small-time Salem meth dealer, in April 1990.
Yesterday, federal Judge Magistrate John Acosta ruled that Gable's 1991 conviction was deeply flawed and ordered that he be released from his sentence of life in prison without parole, unless the state decide within the next 90 days to re-try him.
Here's the statement the Francke brothers issued upon Acosta's ruling:
The events of January 17, 1989 have never been far from our thoughts on a daily basis. That is hard for people to understand. We have never been convinced that Frank Gable was guilty of the crime, never. In observing the trial and the events inside and especially outside the courtroom, we were even more convinced that the State wanted this case over, and quickly, no matter how they achieved that end. Machiavelli would be proud.
A careful reading of the Federal Public Defender Ms. Nell Brown's brief will make it clear to even a person with no knowledge and little interest in the case that the State manipulated the process to convict Frank Gable. 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.
We became increasingly anxious as the months passed into years after the final arguments before Magistrate Acosta were made in November of 2016. Thankfully it is almost over. It is now abundantly clear that Frank Gable had nothing to do with the murder. The diligence of the Federal Public Defender legal team of Ms. Nell Brown and Mr. Mark Ahlemeyer and their group of investigators should be honored. Her brief was, in the words of a long-time lawyer friend, one of the best he has ever read. Textbook and precedent setting according to another lawyer friend. Bravo!
Thankfully the waiting is over, and Frank Gable is a happy fellow for the first time since 1991. Where were you in 1991?
No matter just now. Time has eroded the case; principals, investigators, and witnesses are dead, vanished, or retired, evidence is in disarray, and the murder remains unsolved; but not in our minds. This announcement will be just a ripple on the stream.
We are happy in the extreme that the very real probability that Frank Gable will be released and his freedom is within sight. 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! Most of all, we are happy for Frank and his family and friends.
The State's response in the coming days will determine the course; in the meantime, we celebrate years of determination by a few to see that justice was served. God bless our Republic; God bless the USA.
The federal public defender for Oregon, Lisa Hay, also released a statement about Acosta's ruling, which came as a result of years of work by her team.
The Federal Public Defender team, led by Assistant Federal Public Defenders Nell Brown and Mark Ahlemeyer, included investigators Wendy Kunkel and Brian Warner and other staff members, who exhaustively researched, investigated, and briefed Mr. Gable's case. The Office of the Federal Public Defender dedicated the resources necessary to bring the injustices in this case to light, and the team put in countless hours advocating for our client's innocence.
Judge Acosta's detailed, well-reasoned decision in Gable v. Williams, No. 3:07-cv-00413-AC, brings our client, and the public, long-sought justice. No one has an interest in keeping an innocent man in prison. Judge Acosta's ruling concluded, among other things, that, in light of the evidence presented, both new and old, no reasonable juror would convict Mr. Gable. Mr. Gable's conviction has been vacated. He is presumed innocent pending a new trial.
For the reasons set out in Judge Acosta's ruling, no one should have confidence in the 1991 verdict. There was no physical evidence to convict our client. He was convicted based on the inconsistent statements of supposed eyewitnesses who have now recanted, and on statements of other witnesses who only implicated our client when subjected to improper polygraph and interrogation techniques. The Judge's thorough analysis demonstrates the absence of reliable evidence against Mr. Gable.
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.
The decision also brings justice to the Francke family. The family lost a beloved father and brother. Mr. Francke's brothers have not had confidence in the verdict and were pained to see an innocent man go to prison. They have shared with us their celebration of Judge Acosta's decision and their hope that this brings an end to Mr. Gable's prosecution.