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Hearing set on DNA testing in Gable appeal

COURTESY SALEM STATESMAN JOURNAL - Frank Gable has always maintained he is innocent of killing Michael Francke, the former director of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Additional DNA testing has been granted in the federal appeal of Oregon’s most controversial murder conviction.

U.S. Magistrate Judge John Acosta has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to determine who will conduct the tests. Gable's federal public defenders have requested an out-of-state lab. The Oregon Department of Justice, which is representing the state, wants it done by the Oregon State Police crime lab.

Petty Salem criminal Frank Gable is serving a life-without-parole sentence for killing Oregon Department of Corrections Director Michael Francke outside his office on Jan. 18, 1989. Gable, who has always maintained his innocence, is now asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon to be immediately paroled or granted a new trial.

As part of his appeal, Gable’s federal public defenders asked for new DNA tests to be conducted on Francke’s eyeglasses and portions of his clothes. They claim the tests could help prove Gable’s innocence by finding DNA from a third party.

Francke was stabbed to death while wearing a raincoat and scarf. Stains on them previously had been tested without finding any DNA evidence of a third party. But Gable’s attorneys asked to test the areas where the knife blade penetrated, where so-called “touch DNA” may have transferred from the actual assailant.

Testing the glasses could be especially significant. In an earlier filing, Gable’s attorneys revealed that another petty Salem criminal, Johnny Crouse, confessed to killing Francke before Gable emerged as a suspect. Among other things, Crouse said he hit Francke in the head when they struggled.

Francke’s autopsy revealed bruising around one of his eyes, a fact that had not been released before Crouse confessed. Crouse, who has since died, was never charged in the crime, although his description of the fatal encounter is almost exactly how prosecutors said Gable killed Francke.

The Oregon Department of Justice, which is opposing the appeal on behalf of the state, objected to the further tests. Although the department admits no DNA or other physical evidence connects Gable to the murder, it has argued Gable’s attorneys had not demonstrated sufficient cause for them, and that they were unlikely to produce additional evidence.

Acosta approved a request on June 13. In his order, the judge wrote that Gable’s attorneys had demonstrated “good cause” to support the new testing to prove his claim of actual innocence. “There is reason to believe that results from additional DNA testing of the three items requested may support (Gable’s) claim of actual innocence,” Acosta wrote.

Gable was convicted of murdering Francke on June 27, 1991. The conviction has long been controversial for several reasons, including media reports at the time that Francke — who had been hired from out of state — had discovered evidence of corruption within the Oregon Department of Corrections that he was trying to root out.