Saturday, January 30, 1999

Franklin's confession frees man

Judge grants new trial in W.Va. slayings

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Joseph Paul Franklin
        Since the day he was arrested for shooting to death two young women, Jacob Beard has been telling police, prosecutors and anyone else who would listen that he didn't do it.

        A judge finally decided this week that he might be right.

        After reviewing a confession from convicted serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin, a West Virginia judge granted Mr. Beard a new trial this week and freed him from the prison that has been his home for five years.

        Mr. Franklin made his confession in 1997 to a Hamilton County assistant prosecutor who was investigating his role in an old Cincinnati murder case.

        In his rambling statement to assistant prosecutor Melissa Powers, Mr. Franklin said he was responsible for the 1980 slayings of Vicky Durian, 22, and Nancy Santomero, 19.

        The women were found shot to death near the Rainbow Peace Festival in West Virginia.

        “I committed the Rainbow murders, you know,” Mr. Franklin told Ms. Powers. “The Rainbow killins' were a little different ... 'cause I just picked them up hitchhikin'.”

        Although Mr. Franklin has confessed to the murders on several occasions, police and prosecutors in Pocahontas County, W.Va., said they remain convinced Mr. Beard is the real killer.

        Mr. Beard, a farmer with no serious criminal record, was first linked to the case in the early 1980s when he placed an anonymous call expressing sympathy to one of the victim's fathers. Police traced a subsequent call to Mr. Beard.

        Pocahontas County Prosecutor Walt Weiford said Mr. Beard drew more suspicion when he began telling bizarre stories about the case, including one in which he claimed a third shooting victim was dumped into a corn chipper on his property.

        Later, Mr. Weiford said, two men told police they saw Mr. Beard kill the women. Mr. Beard, who had moved to Florida, was brought back in 1993 for a trial that ended with a guilty verdict.

        Pocahontas County Sheriff Jerry Dale said the evidence against Mr. Beard was clear and convincing.

        “There's no doubt in my mind that Beard did it,” Sheriff Dale said Friday.

        But the judge ruled this week that Mr. Franklin's confession to Ms. Powers — along with new testimony from another witness — justified another trial for Mr. Beard. He gave prosecutors until Feb. 11 to decide whether to go forward.

        Mr. Weiford said he wants to try the case again but is uncertain county officials will bankroll another trial. He also said he suspects Mr. Franklin may have fabricated his confession based on media reports.

        “Franklin is someone who obviously would take a great deal of pleasure in confounding the system,” Mr. Weiford said. “I also think he'd like to be known as a great serial killer, to keep adding notches to his gun.”

        Ms. Powers, however, said details Mr. Franklin provided — from his description of the women to a map he drew of the location — suggest he was involved.

        He also was in the area at the time, committing similar murders in Pennsylvania and Cincinnati during a three-week period in June.

        Ms. Powers said she hopes the confession helps authorities get the right man.

        “I really, truly feel very good about it,” she said.

        Mr. Franklin, who claims he was trying to start a “race war,” has said he picked up the girls hitchhiking and became angered when they began talking about dating black men. He said he shot them in his car, dumped their bodies and then ditched his car a short time later.

        Mr. Franklin has been linked to as many as 18 racially motivated murders, including those of Dante Evans Brown and Darrell Lane in Cincinnati.

        Mr. Franklin was convicted of those murders last year based on evidence that included the confession he made to Ms. Powers. He currently is on death row in Missouri.


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