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Wrongly Imprisoned for Killing Oregon Prison Director, Frank Gable Finally Fully Freed

On May 12, 2023, the federal court for the District of Oregon dismissed the murder indictment against Frank Gable, who was wrongfully imprisoned nearly 30 years for the 1989 slaying of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) director at the time, Michael Francke.

As PLN has reported, Gable was released from prison in 2019, after U.S. Magistrate Judge John V. Acosta declared that he was “probably” innocent and ordered the state to fully free or re-try him in 90 days. [See: PLN, Nov. 2021, p.1.]

After Francke’s killing, Marion County detectives conducted what the Statesman Journal called “the most expensive homicide investigation in Oregon history.” However, instead of tracking down DOC officials whose feathers were ruffled by Francke’s reforms, detectives instead focused on a motley crew of low-level drug dealers and ex­cons.

One, Johnny Lee Crouse, first said he witnessed five unknown assailants kill Francke. Then he said he did it himself, accepting a $1,500 downpayment on a $300,000 contract fee from someone named “Juan.” Then he changed his story again, saying he committed the murder when he was surprised during a car burglary by the victim, realizing only later that it was Francke. Days later he recanted that confession, only to recant the recantation after that, blaming DOC officials he promised to name.

That was enough to buy Crouse immunity from prosecution. But he never named any mysterious DOC figures behind the killing because detectives were tipped off that Gable was the killer. The tipster, Michael Keerins, later admitted he lied. By then, though, Crouse had refused to testify, and the trial court barred his confession from evidence. The jury convicted Gable, and he was sentenced to life without parole in July 1991.

It was this litany of prosecution errors that eventually freed Gable in 2019, with Judge Acosta’s 90-day window stayed while the state appealed his ruling. That was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in September 2022. See: Gable v. Williams, 49 F.4th 1315 (9th Cir. 2022).  The Supreme Court of the U.S. then declined to issue a writ of certiorari to hear the case on April 24, 2023. See: Steward v. Gable, 143 S. Ct. 1796 (2023).

At that point, Oregon Solicitor General Benjamin Gutman announced that the Marion County District Attorney’s Office would not retry or reindict Gable. The state Department of Justice said it would respect the court rulings. Judge Acosta then entered his dismissal with prejudice, also vacating and expunging Gable’s conviction. See: Gable v. Williams, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83661 (D. Or.). 

Additional sources: AP News, The Oregonian

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