Former Fort Worth, Texas, police officer Brian Franklin is finally free. But he is still fighting to clear his name.
"I've been vindicated," he told me in an interview last week, "but not yet exonerated." Franklin served 21 years in prison -- a harrowing 7,700 days -- of a life sentence after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl in 1995. But he steadfastly maintained his innocence, studied law in the prison library and won a reversal of his conviction last spring. In December, a jury acquitted him after a second criminal trial.
"It's been a roller coaster ride up and down," Franklin reflected. Hellish doesn't begin to describe the journey. His accuser had lied that she was a virgin before Franklin allegedly raped her. Prosecutors produced physical exam results of damage to her genitals as proof of his crime. In fact, she had been the victim of molestation by her stepfather for years.
Moreover, the young accuser's story of when she was allegedly raped changed to fit a timeline developed by prosecutors. That timeline was debunked when Franklin's employment time records and time-stamped and dated store receipts showed he was nowhere near the alleged rape location -- the backyard of her biological father, who was a friend of Franklin's.
There were no witnesses. There was no DNA. Yet, the cop with "law enforcement in my blood" lost his job, reputation and freedom.
"It's the easiest crime to be falsely accused of," Franklin told me. Prosecutors "used my position as a police officer against me." His family and church stood by him. But as soon as he was arrested, he had already been branded a "RAPIST" in the court of public opinion. His original jury "prejudged me," Franklin recalled. Given the reckless witch hunts in cases like his and the Duke Lacrosse case, he observed, "I'm surprised anybody gets acquitted these days."
After Franklin's conviction, lead prosecutor Rose Salinas learned that his accuser had signed an affidavit detailing the daily sexual abuse by her stepfather from the ages of 6-16. Those claims, Salinas concluded, "render irrelevant any medical evidence introduced at Brian Franklin's trial to show guilt," "clearly show she that she testified falsely" and "cast serious doubts on the integrity of his conviction." Had she known of the accuser's withheld evidence, Salinas acknowledged, she "would have immediately dismissed the charges" against Franklin.
But he was still years away from winning his release as his various writs and petitions worked through the laborious criminal justice system. "There were times when a court would rule against me and I felt hit it in the stomach and down in the dumps," Franklin recounted over the phone from Kerrville, Texas, where he now lives with his mother. He leaned on his faith and family to get through the darkest times.
"I did not become hardened and I did not become institutionalized. I would not let myself become one of them."
Though he and his resilient family celebrated what they call a "Merry Acquitmas" in December, Franklin must still win a declaration of actual innocence from the state of Texas before he can be eligible for financial reparations for the falsely accused. He took a job at a grocery story and is trying to raise money on GoFundMe -- https://www.gofundme.com/Brian-Franklin -- for his legal bills.
Someday, Franklin told me, he would like to work full-time again in law enforcement and help others who have been wrongfully charged, convicted and imprisoned. He has already weighed in to support former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw, who was railroaded by the social justice mob and accused of sexual assaults during the racially charged summer of Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014.
After reporting on the junk science, prosecutorial misconduct, police incompetence and due process violations run amok in his case over the past year, I've heard from several DNA experts, private investigators and former LEOs across the country disturbed by the gross miscarriage of justice against Holtzclaw. He filed his appellate brief with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Feb. 1.
"I've studied this case from both sides and have come to the conclusion that he really is innocent," Franklin wrote on Facebook. "I know about innocence. I was a cop wrongfully convicted of rape...For those of you who jump to conclusions when you don't know what you're talking about, shame on you. Learn the facts first."
Brian Franklin is a beacon not only for law enforcement officers fighting the tyranny of "guilty until proven innocent," but for every falsely accused citizen. His vow:
"I will not give up. I will persevere. I am right. I'm not gonna give up."