It was the summer of 1974 when Larry Flynt reimagined his newsletter as the magazine we know today as Hustler. Though its circulation has decreased in the age of internet, at its height, Hustler sold around three million rags a month. It was Hustler that published the paparazzi shots of Jacqueline Onassis sunbathing nude just one year later. As the years went on, Flynt pushed the boundaries of his magazine’s content, running more and more explicit imagery. His interest in pushing society’s boundaries brought him to court several times, where he fought tirelessly for freedom of speech.
It was during one of his many many court battles that Flynt barely escaped an assassination attempt. A sniper hiding near the Lawrenceville, Georgia, courthouse shot him and his attorney, Gene Reeves, Jr. In a special for the Hollywood Reporter, Flynt writes:
On March 6, 1978, as I stood on the steps of the Georgia courthouse where I was fighting obscenity charges, a series of gunshots rang out. I remember nothing that happened after that until I woke up in the intensive care unit. The damage to my central nervous system was severe, and it took several weeks before doctors could stabilize me. From then on, I was paralyzed from the waist down, and have been confined to a wheelchair ever since.
The pain resulting from the shooting caused Flynt to become dependent on painkillers, which he was unable to give up until several surgeries removed the damaged nerves causing the pain. Overdosing on analgesics also led to a stroke that impaired his speech. Reeves was in a coma for 20 days but made a full recovery and eventually became a senior magistrate in Gwinnett County, Georgia.
Though no suspect was ever taken into custody, Flynt and some members of law enforcement believe the shooter is white supremacist Joseph Paul Franklin. Franklin confessed to the double-shooting after being imprisoned. He has been convicted of eight racially-motivated murders between 1977 and 1980 and been implicated or confessed to at least 13 additional killings. The double shooting that spring day in 1978 wasn’t motivated by pornography itself. Franklin said he targeted Flynt after seeing an interracial series of photographs in Hustler.
This summer, Missouri attorney general Chris Koster issued a statement setting Franklin’s execution date to November 20, calling it “an important step to see that justice is finally done for the victims and their families.”
But Flynt doesn’t want Franklin to die this November at the hands of the state — Flynt doesn’t believe in capital punishment. He writes:
Supporters of capital punishment argue that it is a deterrent which prevents potential murderers from committing future crimes, but research has failed to provide a shred of valid scientific proof to that effect whatsoever. In 18th century England, pickpocketing was a capital offense. Once a week, crowds would gather in a public square to observe public hangings of convicted pickpockets, unaware that their own pockets were being emptied by thieves moving among them. Thatâ€™s a true story, and, if youâ€™re ever trying to convince somebody of why the death penalty is not a deterrent, thatâ€™s a good example.
As far as the severity of punishment is concerned, to me, a life spent in a 3-by-6-foot cell is far harsher than the quick release of a lethal injection. And costs to the taxpayer? Execution has been proven to be far more expensive for the state than a conviction of life without parole, due to the long and complex judicial process required for capital cases.
Franklin has been sentenced by the Missouri Supreme Court to death by legal injection on Nov. 20. I have every reason to be overjoyed with this decision, but I am not. I have had many years in this wheelchair to think about this very topic. As I see it, the sole motivating factor behind the death penalty is vengeance, not justice, and I firmly believe that a government that forbids killing among its citizens should not be in the business of killing people itself.