RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Rachel Martin.
Larry Flynt is not one to shy away from speaking his mind. As the publisher of the adult magazine Hustler, he's been a polarizing figure. Flynt has been in and out of court for decades, fighting for the right to publish freely. One of those court battles 35 years ago changed his life in a profound way.
LARRY FLYNT: While I was on trial for obscenity in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and I was returning to the courthouse from lunch when the shots rang out and that's about all I remember about it.
MARTIN: Flynt doesn't remember the specifics of that day. After hearing the gunshots, he woke up in the intensive care unit.
FLYNT: well, it was almost a year before they even knew if I was going to live or not. I was hurt really badly.
MARTIN: Larry Flynt did survive, but a bullet damaged his central nervous system and he would never walk again.
Now, decades later, the man who says he pulled the trigger on that day - Joseph Paul Franklin - is on death row, not for the attack on Flynt but for dozens of racially-motivated attacks and murders. This Wednesday, Franklin is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in the State of Missouri.
Now Larry Flynt is defending the man who shot and paralyzed him. We spoke with him by phone from his home in Los Angeles, and Flynt told us that the death penalty should never be an option.
FLYNT: My opinion on the death penalty hasn't changed for decades. And all of a sudden, I'm getting press calls from all over the world; people are interested in knowing my opinion about the death penalty. And it's a very simple one. I just don't think the government should be in the business of killing people. And I think punishment by putting someone in a three-by-six cell is a lot greater than if you stomp up their life in a few seconds with lethal injection. It makes sense.
MARTIN: Is there any case, any exceptional crime for which you would support the death penalty?
FLYNT: No, because what happens in our society is we confuse justice with vengeance. When you lose a loved one through a violent crime, you say you want justice but what you really want is you want vengeance - you want that person to die. But if you stop and think and realize that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it doesn't make sense that you want the person to die.
Because if someone is going to commit a violent crime such as murder, they don't stop and think, well, if I do this, am I going to get life in prison or am I going to the electric chair? Criminals don't think that way. And it's too bad that people who are involved in the administration of the death penalty don't understand this.
MARTIN: Last month, you wrote a column in the Hollywood Reporter, and I'm going to quote from that piece. You wrote, "In all the years since the shooting, I have never come face-to-face with Franklin. I would love an hour in a room with him and a pair of wire-cutters and pliers, so I could inflict the same damage on him that he inflicted on me. But I do not want to kill him, nor do I want to see him die."
I wonder how you have come to relate to this person who wounded you so. It sounds like you're still angry.
FLYNT: No. I'm just - even though I'm opposed to the death penalty - I don't believe we're supposed to turn the other cheek. So, you know, I would enjoy seeing him having to endure some of the same pain that I endured for decades.
MARTIN: Have you forgiven him in some way? Do you feel sorry for him?
FLYNT: Forgiveness is rather subjective. It's often difficult to define what you actually mean. If I say I don't want him executed, have I forgiven him? Maybe, but you don't forget. And I don't think in terms of forgiveness. I think he's an animal. I don't think he should be roaming around in society. But I don't want to be part of executing him.
MARTIN: Larry Flynt is the publisher of Hustler magazine. He spoke to us on the line from his home in Los Angeles. Mr. Flynt, thank you very much.
FLYNT: I thank you.
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