[Hpn] Full Story

Bill Tinker wtinker@fcgnetworks.net
Fri, 16 Jun 2000 07:48:43 -0400

 Texas Execution Hinges on Witness

Associated Press Writer
LIVINGSTON, Texas (AP) _ Three weeks after issuing his
first-ever reprieve to a condemned man, Gov. George W. Bush is
confronted with another case that foes of the death penalty see as
a disturbing illustration of what's wrong with capital punishment.
Gary Graham, 36, faces lethal injection June 22 based on the
testimony of a single eyewitness _ a woman who says she saw him
shoot a man to death in a holdup outside a Houston supermarket 19
years ago.
Graham, who has spent more than half his life on death row,
insists he didn't do it.
The case poses political considerations for the Republican
presidential candidate, and comes amid growing doubts around the
country about the death penalty. Earlier this year, Illinois Gov.
George Ryan placed a moratorium on executions after several inmates
on death row were cleared.
Graham's supporters argue that his lawyer did a poor job at the
trial, that his fate was sealed by a witness who got only a
fleeting look at the killer, that no physical evidence tied him to
the crime and that witnesses he wants heard have been blocked by
procedural hurdles.
``Responsible citizens, including death penalty advocates,
should shudder at the thought of an execution based solely on a
two-second view of a stranger's face in the dark,'' said Graham's
attorney on appeal, Richard Burr.
Among other things, Graham's supporters have enlisted the
backing of the Northwestern University law school's Center on
Wrongful Convictions, which brought to Houston 10 men and one woman
who were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes because of bad
> eyewitness identifications.
The courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court last month, have so
far refused to stop the execution.
And Texas Attorney General John Cornyn sharply defended the
prosecution Wednesday.
``The people of Texas can be assured that Gary Graham is guilty
of capital murder and that he has received the due process our
American system guarantees,'' he said in a statement. ``The
incredible brutality and raw violence of Gary Graham forever will
haunt the memories of Texans.''
Bush had allowed 131 executions during his 5{ years in office
before granting a 30-day reprieve to a convicted killer June 1 to
pursue DNA tests.
Because Graham already got a similar reprieve from Bush's
predecessor in 1993, the govenor cannot act to spare his life
unless the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, whose members are
appointed by the governor, recommends a pardon, a reprieve or
commutation of his sentence.
Only once have Bush and the board agreed to spare a death row
inmate because of doubts about his guilt.
``We need the same type of leadership in this case,'' Graham
said from prison.
Gerald Garrett, chairman of the parole board, said the agency
will pursue a ``fair and complete review of the application.'' As
for the governor, spokesman Mike Jones said: ``Gov. Bush reviews
each case involving a convicted killer carefully and thoroughly
using the same procedures. This case will be treated the same.''
Graham, who is black and prefers to be known as Shaka Sankofa to
reflect his African heritage, likens his plight to that of the
assassinated Malcolm X and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
He has threatened to ``fight like hell'' if he is taken to the
death chamber and has warned of ``consequences'' if he is executed,
calling on supporters to ``take up arms to defend our rights by any
means necessary.''
Texas prison officials are stepping up security.
Graham was condemned for the slaying of 53-year-old Bobby Grant
Lambert, who in 1981 stopped at a Safeway around 9 p.m. to pick up
some groceries and was shot by a young man black in the parking lot
as he left.
A teacher, Bernadine Skillern, waiting in her car while her
daughter ran inside the store, watched from about 30 feet away. She
identified Graham as the shooter.
Her account, plus testimony from victims of a weeklong crime
spree committed by the 17-year-old Graham, helped convince the jury
he should be put to death. Police accused Graham of 22 robberies,
rapes, assaults and thefts during that bloody week in 1981.
Skillern was cross-examined in an exchange that takes up 36
pages of the transcript, and was asked about her angle of her sight
and how she saw the shooter for only seconds. She said the lighting
in the parking lot was adequate.
``I couldn't even get her to flicker,'' recalled Ron Mock,
Graham's lawyer at the trial.
Skillern has not wavered over the years. On Thursday, she called
a news conference to say: ``That has not changed. It's not going to
change. I saw him shoot and kill him.''
The evidence Graham wants heard comes from people who claim he
was elsewhere or was not the gunman. But courts have held that the
witnesses who have surfaced on Graham's behalf since his trial were
not credible or their information was vague or inconsistent.
Mock's performance as Graham's lawyer also has been criticized,
but the appeals courts have rejected arguments that he was
Among other things, Mock _ who has repeatedly been reprimanded
or put on probation or suspension by the bar _ rested his case
during the guilt-or-innocence phase of the trial without calling
any witnesses. But that strategy is not unheard of, and appeals
courts have held that it is not necessarily grounds for a new
Mock has said Graham gave him no names of alibi witnesses before
the trial. The lawyer said Graham told him only that he had spent
the evening with a girlfriend whose name, description and address
he could not remember.
Graham has had eight execution dates, and according to
prosecutors, his case has been the most heavily reviewed of any
death penalty case in Harris County. According to one count, it has
been reviewed by the courts some three dozen times.
Still, said actor Danny Glover, one of the Hollywood celebrities
who have taken up his case: ``When you talk about convicting
someone and sentenced to death, you should be talking about it
without reasonable doubt.''

Click to join:

 Click to make a free donation to end homelessness

 To Post a message, send it to:   nhhomeless@eGroups.com

 To Unsubscribe, send a blank message to: nhhomeless-unsubscribe@eGroups.com