By Karen Brooks and Carey Gillam
(Reuters) - Missouri serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin was executed by lethal injection on Wednesday after the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for him to be put to death for murdering a man outside a synagogue in 1977, a corrections spokesman said.
Franklin, an avowed white supremacist, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing Gerald Gordon, 42, and wounding two other men in a St. Louis-area synagogue parking lot. But he also was linked to the deaths of at least 18 other people.
Franklin, 63, was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m. CST (1217 GMT) at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, said Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.
The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way earlier on Wednesday for the execution to move forward, lifting two stays that would have allowed Franklin to challenge Missouri's new lethal drug protocol, and argue his claim that he was mentally incompetent and could not be executed.
The stays were granted on Tuesday by two federal judges and immediately appealed by the state.
Franklin was the 35th inmate executed in the United States in 2013 and the first in Missouri in nearly three years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
He was convicted of killing eight people in the late 1970s and 1980s in racially motivated attacks around the country. The victims included two African-American men in Utah, two African-American teenagers in Ohio and an interracial couple in Wisconsin.
He also had admitted to shooting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt in 1978, paralyzing him. Flynt argued that Franklin should serve life in prison and not be executed.
FIRST EXECUTION UNDER NEW PROTOCOL
Franklin was the first inmate in Missouri put to death under the state's new execution protocol. In October, the state changed its protocols to allow for a compounded pentobarbital, a short-acting barbiturate, to be used in a lethal dose for executions.
The state also said it would make the compounding pharmacy mixing the drug a member of its official "execution team," which could allow the pharmacy's identity to be kept secret.
Missouri is one of many U.S. states that have been seeking out drugs for executions from compounding pharmacies now that a growing number of pharmaceutical manufacturers refuse to allow their drugs to be used for the purpose.
The practice is controversial because drugs mixed in compounding pharmacies are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Critics contend use of the compounded drugs could result in needless suffering and botched executions, but states including Missouri have pressed ahead.
Franklin was one of nearly two dozen plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of Missouri's new execution protocol.
In granting a stay on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Nanette Laughrey had noted that Missouri issued three different protocols in the three months preceding Franklin's execution date and as recently as five days before.
"Franklin has been afforded no time to research the risk of pain associated with the department's new protocol, the quality of the pentobarbital provided, and the record of the source of the pentobarbital," Laughrey wrote in the stay order entered in federal court in Jefferson City, Missouri.
(Reporting by Karen Brooks and Carey Gillam; Editing by Scott Malone, Colleen Jenkins and Chris Reese)