Jackson visits death row to meet condemned Graham

Wednesday, June 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

AUSTIN – As the maneuvering over his very existence continued Tuesday, death-row inmate Gary Graham visited with lawyers and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Although no formal action took place, Harris County prosecutors filed new documents with the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles seeking to bolster their capital murder conviction of Mr. Graham.

That came as one of Mr. Graham's lawyers said that a third juror had joined two colleagues who previously said they had had a change of heart.

In a sworn affidavit, the third juror said he would have voted not guilty if he had known about two eyewitnesses who did not testify at Mr. Graham's trial in the May 1981 shooting of Bobby Lambert in Houston.

Mr. Graham's attorney would not disclose the juror's name.

Mr. Graham, who insists he did not kill Mr. Lambert, was convicted on the testimony of one witness. He faces execution Thursday evening, barring action by Gov. George W. Bush or an unlikely 11th-hour court stay.

The governor, facing national scrutiny during his presidential campaign, can grant a commutation to life in prison or a 120-day stay, but only upon the recommendation of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

That panel said it would announce its decision within six hours of the 6 p.m. execution time.

A bailiff who escorted Mr. Graham after he was sentenced to death swore in an affidavit filed by Harris County prosecutors Tuesday that Mr. Graham implicitly took credit for the killing.

"Next time I'm not going to leave any witnesses," Mr. Graham said, according to bailiff Lawrence A. Pollinger of New York.

Harris County prosecutors sent the affidavit to the board, along with a sworn affidavit from a prosecutor confirming that Mr. Pollinger told him about that statement at the time of the trial in 1981.

The affidavits were given to the board in response to a flood of publicity on Mr. Graham's behalf, said Roe Wilson, an assistant district attorney in Harris County.

Mr. Graham's defense attorney said that the bailiff's statement was false.

"I point-blank asked Gary Graham if there was any truth to that, and he said he absolutely did not say that," said Jack Zimmermann.

Mr. Zimmermann said that the prosecution's submission of the affidavit only underscores the need for a further evidentiary hearing in the case.

"Let's put that deputy on the stand," he said. "Let's cross-examine him."

Mr. Graham was arrested at the end of a robbery spree that included 10 crimes to which he pleaded guilty and for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Mr. Jackson arrived in Houston on Tuesday morning and proceeded to the Terrell Unit in Livingston, where he met with Mr. Graham for about 90 minutes.

Mr. Jackson returned to Houston in the afternoon, addressing the news media in front of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center downtown.

Besides calling on Mr. Bush to stop the execution, he said that the presumed Democratic nominee, Vice President Al Gore, should speak out against Mr. Graham's execution.

"Gore must not be silent," Mr. Jackson said. "To be silent is betrayal."

The Chicago civil rights leader, one of a string of high-profile Graham supporters, has been designated as the inmate's spiritual counselor and is listed as a witness for the execution.

The governor last week declined to meet with Mr. Jackson about the case, citing the deliberations by the Board of Pardons and Paroles.

Mr. Jackson challenged that, saying that Mr. Bush had the power to intervene.

"Governor Bush has the power and responsibility to give leadership and advice before ... [the board] votes," Mr. Jackson said. "The man who wants to be the leader of the free world has to show he can be the leader of these 18 people."

Two jurors who said in interviews Tuesday that they had changed their minds about convicting Mr. Graham attributed their changes of heart to new information generated by the defense about eyewitnesses.

Those witnesses said they could not positively identify Mr. Graham as the killer.

Bernadine Skillern, the star witness at Mr. Graham's murder trial, last week said she remains completely confident about identifying him as the killer.

Professor Lawrence Marshall, a Northwestern University law professor involved in successfully contesting seven Illinois death cases, said the emergence of new witnesses and reluctant jurors should prompt a reprieve.

"Nobody's asking for the door to be opened and for Gary Graham to walk free," said Dr. Marshall, an adviser to the Graham defense team who appeared with Mr. Jackson at the news conference. "All we're asking for is a fair trial."

The story of Mr. Graham, who was 17 when convicted, also attracted the attention of Bianca Jagger, who said she was contacted by the Coalition to End the Death Penalty several years ago about Mr. Graham's case.

"In this particular case, we are going to execute someone who was not allowed to vote, was not allowed to do military service and not allowed to have a drink legally," Ms. Jagger said, with Mr. Jackson at her side. "But he is allowed to be executed for a crime he didn't commit."

Staff writer Erik Rodriguez in Livingston, Texas, and Houston contributed to this report.