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The Trial of Gary Graham: 1981

Witness Identifies Murderer, The One-day Trial, 20 Years Of Appeals

Defendant: Gary Lee Graham
Crime Charged: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: Ronald G. Mock, Douglas M. O'Brien, and Chester Lash Thornton; on appeals: Richard Burr, Douglas M. O'Brien, Robert C. Owen, Michael E. Tygar, Mandy Welch, Jack B. Zimmermann
Chief Prosecutors: John H. Holmes, Jr.; on appeals: Dan Morales
Judge: James Richard Travathan
Place: Houston, Texas
Date of Trial: October 30, 1981
Verdict: Guilty
Sentence: Execution

SIGNIFICANCE: Experts on capital criminal trials saw several compelling questions raised by the Gary Graham case, including: Should a jury consider a murderer's youth and background as a mitigating factor that justifies a life sentence rather than execution? Should a governor be empowered to grant more than one stay of execution pending further review? Should a "30-day rule" prohibiting the introduction of new evidence more than one month after a conviction be revoked? Why does Texas perform nearly twice as many executions as other states?

On May 20, 1981, police of Houston, Texas, were called to the home of 57year-old Lisa Blackburn. They found her holding a. 22-caliber handgun she had taken from 17-year-old Gary Graham, who was asleep in her bedroom. Over five hours, she told them, he had collected her valuables, which were piled by her front door, raped her at gunpoint, and threatened to kill her. He had fallen asleep, she said, "So I took his gun, took his clothes, and called the police."

Arrested, Graham admitted that he had recently committed 10 aggravated robberies, pistol-whipping two victims, shooting one in the neck, and striking one with an automobile after stealing it from him. Graham's background, the police found, included a number of petty offenses. The child of an alcoholic father and a mentally ill mother, he was a semi-illiterate seventh-grade dropout who had fathered children when he was 15 and 17.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988