Court Vacates Murder Conviction Of Man Accused Of Killing Oregon Prison Director In 1989

“The facts on appeal are extraordinary,” federal judges said of claims Frank Gable killed Michael Francke during a botched burglary.

January 26, 2023
Frank Gable, pictured here, was wrongfully convicted for the murder of James Michael (Mike) Francke on June 27, 1991.

A man who spent three decades behind bars in connection with the slaying of a prison director in Oregon recently had his conviction vacated by a federal appeals court.

Photo by: Kevin Francke via GoFundMe

Kevin Francke via GoFundMe

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A man who spent three decades behind bars in connection with the slaying of a prison director in Oregon recently had his conviction vacated by a federal appeals court.

The decision affirmed a judge’s 2019 ruling to release Frank Gable from prison because key evidence in the case that implicated a different possible suspect of the murder of 42-year-old Michael Francke was excluded at trial, The Oregonian reported.

“The facts on appeal are extraordinary,” September’s appeals court ruling reads, the judges explaining, “In the thirty years since trial, nearly all the witnesses who incriminated Gable have recanted. In short, no reasonable juror could ignore the heavy blow to the State’s evidence given the significance of the recantations.”

“The affidavits show how undisputed investigative misconduct paved the way for a string of criminal associates to turn on Gable to help themselves,” the ruling added.

On Jan. 17, 1989, Francke was stabbed to death outside the building where he worked in Salem. Around 15 months following the killing, police arrested Gable, reportedly a local methamphetamine dealer, after a man came forward and told detectives he witnessed Gable commit the crime.

To build their case, prosecutors relied on the testimony of a witness who claimed Gable broke into the victim’s vehicle in an attempt to steal papers about informants and they theorized Francke died after he caught Gable, the Associated Press reported.

Despite prosecutors’ failure to show a clear motive for the killing during trial and the lack of physical evidence implicating Gable, the then 31-year-old defendant was convicted of aggravated murder in June 1991 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

According to the AP, immediately following the conviction, the victim’s two brothers, Patrick Francke and Kevin Francke, said they had their doubts that Gable was responsible for the murder. The siblings subsequently became firm believers in Gable’s innocence.

The recent federal appeals court decision supported their thinking.

Among other observations, the judges wrote in the ruling that John Crouse, a convicted robber on parole at the time of Francke’s murder, repeatedly confessed to committing the crime to multiple people, including family and law enforcement.

Crouse claimed he fatally stabbed Francke after the corrections officer caught him breaking into his vehicle. The appeals court pointed out the confessions appeared reliable and matched with evidence collected in the case.

“Critically, Crouse included key details that were consistent with the evidence but not yet public, like the number and type of wounds Francke suffered,” wrote Jacqueline H. Nguyen, one of the three federal appeals court judges.

She pointed out Crouse “claimed he stabbed Francke three times: in the heart, arm, and torso. Although Francke was stabbed through the left bicep, and not the right forearm like Crouse said, Crouse accurately identified his other injuries: he said he slashed Francke’s arms and hands, and hit Francke on the left side of his face and eyeglasses.”

Crouse also said he was wearing a tan jacket the night of the murder, another fact that correlated with what one witness who saw the perpetrator told police.

Crouse died in 2013, the Statesman Journal reported.

Gable, now 63, has been on federal supervision since his release from custody in 2019, and his public defender, Nell Brown, said she was “incredibly happy” about the appeals court’s decision to vacate her client’s conviction.

“Although he will never get back the three decades of his life that he lost, this decision vindicates his steadfast claim of innocence and powerfully exposes the systemic flaws that led to his wrongful conviction,” Brown said in a statement. “The Ninth Circuit decision makes clear that, with the full story told, no reasonable jury would convict him. I’m proud of our exceptional and dedicated Federal Public Defender team for doing the work to tell that story.”

The murder victim’s brother, Patrick Francke, sent a mass email following the decision and commended the lawyer for her work on Gable’s behalf.

“Oregon has no case. ...Unsolved Mystery again,” he wrote.

According to the Statesman Journal, Kevin Francke said he was “beyond happy” that the appeals court “affirmed and confirmed what we have all known for 30 years: that Frank Gable is innocent…”

He then blasted the prosecution for their “continued persecution of Frank Gable at the expense of millions of dollars of taxpayer dollars,” claiming their efforts were “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.”

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