PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Citing a litany of issues with the original prosecution, since-recanted testimony, and a violation of due process, a federal appeals court has upheld a custody release and vacated conviction in one of Oregon’s most well-known murder cases.
In the ruling issued Thursday, a three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says Frank Gable did not receive a fair trial when a jury convicted him in the murder of State Prison Director Michael Francke. Francke was found stabbed to death on the morning of January 17, 1989, on the steps of his office at the Dome Building in Salem.
With the new ruling, the panel of three judges upheld U.S. Magistrate John Acosta’s 2019 opinion that Gable was likely innocent and no reasonable jury would have convicted him based on evidence that was available at the time but not presented to the jury.
That 2019 ruling served as the catalyst for a KOIN Podcast Network series on Francke’s murder, the investigation, and Gabel’s prosecution.
Despite no physical evidence tying Gable to the crime scene, he was convicted of Francke’s murder in 1991 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Following Magistrate Acosta’s ruling, Gable was released from prison in June of 2019 while the state appealed.
The lynchpin of Gable’s appeals, Acosta’s ruling, and eventually the opinion of the 9th Circuit Court, was that the original jury was never allowed to hear a confession from another person, Johnny Crouse, who, according to court documents, told multiple people, including an investigator, that he had accidentally killed Francke while trying to break into his car.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling vacating Gable’s conviction also leaned heavily on witness testimony used against Gable in his original trial. Testimony that came, largely, from petty criminals and members of the Salem-area illicit drugs scene. The three-judge panel cited multiple instances in which those witnesses have recanted their testimony in subsequent years.
When contacted by KOIN 6 News following Thursday’s publication of the 9th Circuit Court ruling, Michael Francke’s brother Kevin, who has long maintained his belief that Frank Gable didn’t kill his brother said:
“I am beyond happy that the Ninth has affirmed and confirmed what we have all known for over thirty years: Frank Gable is innocent, and that [Oregon Attorney General] Ellen Rosenblum’s continued pursuit, more exactly, continued persecution of Frank Gable at the expense of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars [sic] is nothing more than a deliberate effort to avoid reopening the investigation and pursuing those individuals responsible for the planning and commission of my brother Mike’s murder.”
KOIN 6 News has reached out to both the Oregon Attorney General’s office to see if they plan to appeal the 9th Circuit’s ruling and to Oregon State Police to see if they have any intention of reopening the murder investigation. This article will be updated with their response.