PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - A federal judge has overturned the conviction of Frank Gable in the 1989 killing of Michael Francke, who was the Director of the Oregon Department of Corrections.
The 94-page ruling determines that if a jury saw all of the evidence that has come to light in the case, Gable would never have been convicted and Judge John Acosta finds that Gable should either be released from prison or have a new trial.
In response, the state has 30 days to file a notice of appeal, or 90 days to re-try Gable.
“He’s always maintained his innocence, he’s stuck with that, and here we are today,” said Steve Wax, the Legal Director for the Oregon Innocence Project.
Wax has been familiar with the case since the beginning, first in his long-time role with the Federal Public Defender’s Office and more recently with the Oregon Innocence Project, which filed a brief on Gable’s behalf.
He says the federal ruling is the result of 12 years of hard work put in by his colleagues at the Federal Public Defender’s Office and is a major legal step forward for Gable.
To read the full statement on the case from the Federal Public Defender’s office, click here.
The case dates back to January 17, 1989, when Francke was stabbed to death on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, which housed the administrative offices for the Oregon Department of Corrections at the time.
Prosecutors said Gable killed Francke after Francke caught him burglarizing his car. But there was no physical evidence at the scene, and the prosecution largely relied on witness statements and polygraph tests.
The federal ruling cites several issues with the investigation and conviction.
For instance, another man – John Crouse – confessed to the killing, but the jury in Gable’s case never heard about that.
Also, several witnesses have recanted their statements, saying they were pressured through police interrogations and repeated polygraph tests to say things that weren’t true.
“The key thing, I think, is that in order to reach any of those issues, in order for the federal courthouse door to be opened, the judge had to find enough evidence of innocence…. That’s huge. That’s an incredibly high burden,” Wax explained. “Then [the judge] says the way in which the police obtained this information was wrong, the information given to the jury was unreliable, and they should have heard about this Mr. Crouse who said I did it, and because they didn’t, this conviction can’t stand.”
A spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Corrections told FOX 12, “our hearts go out to Michael Francke’s family and all of those impacted by the crime.”
The DOC just found out about the decision to overturn Gable’s conviction on Thursday and is now “working with the Department of Justice and other partners to determine next steps… we will not disclose Gable’s location for the safety and security of Gable, other adults in custody and the corrections professionals inside the institution.”
Members of Michael Francke’s family are pleased at the federal ruling, saying they’ve always believed Gable is innocent.
Francke’s brothers, Kevin and Patrick, released the following joint statement on behalf of their family:
“My first reaction was relief, and then a flood of emotion washed over me. 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.”
Copyright 2019 KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.