You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

Local

  • Participants get kick out of parade
      It isn’t easy being green … especially when it’s 80 degrees, almost 60 percent humidity and the green is a thick, furry Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costume.“You have no idea” how miserable it is, Ethan Burk said.
  • Time running out on job assistance
    The clock is ticking on a federal program that helps people rebuild their lives after trade-related business decisions rob them of jobs.Unless Congress acts, funding for the Trade Adjustment Assistance program will end Dec. 31.
  • Fading farms: Developments push out family operations
    “People say we could move, but where would we move? What would we do? This is all we've ever done.”
Advertisement
Execution delay
Judge cites Missouri's protocol in issuing stay
ST. LOUIS – A federal judge in Missouri has given a stay of execution to white supremacist serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin just hours before his scheduled death.
U.S. District Court Judge Nanette Laughrey ruled late Tuesday afternoon that a lawsuit filed by Franklin and 20 other death-row inmates challenging Missouri's execution protocol must first be resolved.
The 63-year-old inmate was scheduled to die at 12:01 a.m. today for killing 42-year-old Gerald Gordon in a sniper attack outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.
– Associated Press

Crossing paths with serial killer 3 decades ago

Leatherman
Franklin

– It's May 29, 1980, and Greg Leatherman is leaving work.

A part-time security guard for Brotherhood Mutual Insurance, Leatherman took this gig to earn some money while completing his master's degree at IPFW.

His job: sit outside the construction site of the company's new headquarters near the Interstate 69 exit by Coldwater Road until 2 a.m. and make sure no one steals or vandalizes anything.

After getting into his car, Leatherman heads east on Ludwig Road and then turns south onto Coldwater.

He typically passes a few cars out and about, even this early in the morning, but tonight he sees only one: A dirty and green Chevy Nova – or something akin to that – parked along the side of Coldwater as if abandoned.

What he doesn't see is the man ducking behind the tall grass with a rifle trained on the nearby Mariott Inn.

And what Leatherman doesn't know in this fleeting moment is that he's simultaneously crossing paths with a serial killer and becoming partially embroiled in one of Fort Wayne's most notorious crimes.

Today, on the day the serial killer was scheduled to be put to death, Leatherman is the executive director of the city's Redevelopment Commission. Tuesday night, the serial killer was granted a stay of execution.

Memories of the night Joseph Paul Franklin shot and nearly killed civil rights leader Vernon Jordan Jr. are still fairly fresh for many city residents, even 30 years on.

Especially so for people like Leatherman, who played a role in what many experts would call a bungled trial that included its share of media scrutiny, questionable decisions by prosecutors and even, of all things, an extraordinary amount of hypnotism.

"It was definitely unique to be in a court proceeding like that," Leatherman now says.

'Indescribable'

Joseph Paul Franklin has been convicted of several murders.

In various interviews with other media through the years and leading up to today, he placed the number of victims he killed at roughly 22.

Though leading up to today, he claimed to be a Christian, he admitted that he had been a racist who once went on a killing spree targeting minorities.

This morning, he was scheduled to be put to death at a Missouri prison for the shooting death of a man gunned down outside a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977.

Other crimes Franklin was either convicted of or confessed to include the bombing of a synagogue in Tennessee; the killings of a white woman and black man in Wisconsin; the shooting of Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt; and the killing of two black men jogging in Salt Lake City.

He also later confessed to shooting Vernon Jordan, Jr.

Then the president of the National Urban League, Jordan came to Fort Wayne to speak at the local Urban League's annual dinner at the Mariott Inn.

Afterward, he went to the home of then-local Urban League board member Martha Coleman for coffee and snacks, Jordan later wrote in his memoir, published in 2001.

Coleman brought Jordan back to the Mariott Inn a little after 2 a.m., dropping him off at a side door. As he got out of the car, a bullet fired from a .30-06 hunting rifle pierced his back. The impact lifted him into the air.

"The pain was indescribable, brutal beyond all measure," Jordan wrote in his memoir. "I had often heard that human beings shut down in the face of overwhelming pain. I did not. I remained wide awake, and I could feel the blood running out of my body."

Seconds before that shot, Greg Leatherman drove by the green car parked alongside Coldwater Road.

Unusual request

Leatherman did not hear a thing about the shooting until the next morning.

That's when his dad told him that Jordan had been shot and wounded. Leatherman immediately thought about the green car. He went two doors down to the home of an FBI agent to tell what he saw.

Days later, a Fort Wayne police officer showed up at his door after investigators reviewed who was working in the area that night. Once again, Leatherman described the car he saw on the side of the road.

A year went by and Leatherman heard nothing from police.

Then one day a police investigator contacted him again – this time with an unusual request.

"He said, 'We want to hypnotize you,'" Leatherman recalls.

It's this request that would later cause one of two significant problems at Franklin's trial.

Things he never saw

In a calm and soothing voice, the man begins by asking Leatherman to imagine a series of images.

Imagine a staircase.

Imagine you're traveling inside your head.

Imagine, imagine, imagine.

Leatherman was at the Indiana State Police post on Ellison Road by West Jefferson Boulevard. A detective was trying to put him under and take him back to the night he saw the green car.

"There's a sing-songyness to it," Leatherman said of the procedure. "It's just imagining and getting you to disassociate from the environment you're in."

"I didn't act like a chicken or bark like a dog," he adds.

More than 30 years later, Leatherman remembers that his description of the car during this session may have changed slightly, but not by much.

He also remembers coming out of hypnosis and being asked how long he thought he was under. Leatherman said 15 minutes; he was told it had been half an hour.

He also felt like the line of questioning bordered on urging him to see things he never saw. Specifically, he was asked to see "through" the car. They wanted him to see a gun rack, Leatherman said.

"I might be wrong, because it was hypnosis, but I remember having things suggested to me," Leatherman said. "They wanted me to say things to help their case."

Leatherman wasn't the only witness to be interviewed by police under hypnosis.

Investigators even tried to hypnotize Jordan while he was hooked up to IVs in his hospital room, according to his autobiography.

"There was an influence leveraged with that," Leatherman said of the hypnosis. "Hypnosis is not a good idea when a person's life is at stake."

Another year would go by, one during which a then 22-year-old Leatherman moved to Dallas to take a job at a restaurant.

Then one day a U.S. marshal came inside his place of employment with a subpoena in one hand and an airline ticket in the other.

Leatherman was coming back to Fort Wayne, the marshal said, to testify in the trial of a man accused of shooting Jordan.

A trial that many experts, even then, felt was problematic in its handling.

Civil rights

By 1982, Franklin had already been locked up for life in the killing of two men jogging in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1980.

Federal prosecutors here charged him in the Jordan shooting, but because attempted murder charges aren't applicable in federal court, they charged him with violating Jordan's civil rights.

Some at the time believed some politics played a role in the charging of Franklin, especially since Jordan was associated with high-level politicians, including the president.

"Remember, he's doing 400 years, and they charged him with a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years," said Franklin's then-defense attorney, now 71-year-old Frank Kimbrough. "Politics was a small key to it."

Many others at the time, including Jordan, felt a conviction on the civil rights violation charge would be difficult –- if not impossible.

"(It) was a very weak basis on which to have proceeded because the prosecution had to show that I had been shot because my attacker was trying to prevent me from using a public accommodation," Jordan wrote in his memoir, noting he was shot because he was a black man with a white woman.

Because of the media scrutiny surrounding the case, it was moved to South Bend.

Leatherman remembers that he was one of the first witnesses to be called. Before he gave any testimony, though, Franklin's defense lawyer wanted him questioned without the jury present.

Afterward, the judge ruled that because the hypnosis was not conducted by a medical specialist, the jurors would not hear the testimony.

Hypnosis has continually been a source of contention when applied to legal cases throughout the years.

"I think the courts have been, it's safe to say, skeptical of that type of evidence," said Allen County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Michael McAlexander, a Fort Wayne native who was in law school at the time of the Jordan shooting.

The ruling back then shook prosecutors, Leatherman remembers.

"These federal prosecutors, they were hotshots and weren't very much older than me, they started swearing and cursing at me, saying how I misled them," Leatherman said. "I was 22 years old, and I thought I was doing the right thing. I walked out of there feeling dejected."

Being so close to home, Leatherman wanted to visit Fort Wayne to see his folks before flying back to Dallas.

He convinced a new FBI agent to give him a ride, an agent who was only about two weeks on the job, Leatherman said. That agent was John McGauley, Sr., the father of Allen County's current recorder.

"He told me not to let those people bother me," Leatherman said of that car ride. "He was very helpful."

A jury acquitted Franklin of violating Jordan's civil rights.

Most members of that jury said in telephone interviews with The Journal Gazette after the trial that they thought Franklin was guilty of shooting Jordan.

Prosecutors, though, had not proven he violated Jordan's civil rights.

"I think most of us, our gut feeling was that he did it," said one of those jurors. "But we could not go by gut feeling."

Aftermath

Jordan resigned his position with the Urban League shortly after the shooting.

He became an adviseor to President Bill Clinton and in 2000 took a job with an investment banking firm.

In 1996, Franklin told the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News that he did indeed shoot Jordan.

By then, he was serving six life sentences for various killings.

In the interview, he said he learned Jordan was staying in a corner room at the hotel. He parked his car beside a nearby highway, raised the hood to make it look like he had car trouble and then waited in the grass with his rifle.

Kimbrough remembers Franklin as a schizophrenic who could be charming upon the first meeting but who was quick to become enraged.

Leatherman has been a redevelopment specialist in the city for years now, and has only talked of his experience in the Vernon Jordan shooting at random times when it came up with others.

He thought it had been long forgotten by most.

Then Franklin began popping up in newspapers and television during the past month.

And all of a sudden, there's a reporter on the phone, and it is May 29, 1980 all over again, and Greg Leatherman is leaving work…

jeffwiehe@jg.net

Advertisement