Condemned Inmate Hearing Sought

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

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A top state senator has asked the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to hold a public hearing on the fate of condemned inmate Gary Graham.

In a letter obtained by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sen. Rodney Ellis asked board Chairman Gerald Garrett for a rare full hearing of the 18-member board on Graham's case. Ellis is president pro tem of the Texas Senate and serves as the state's top executive when the governor and lieutenant governor are out of state.

Graham is scheduled to die Thursday for the 1981 murder of a man outside a Houston supermarket.

``Serious concerns have been raised about the Gary Graham case,'' Ellis wrote. ``I believe that these concerns warrant a board hearing to consider all of the evidence in the case before the board makes a recommendation to the governor.''

Typically, members of the parole board individually research and review a case then vote by fax or telephone without group deliberation.

Garrett told the newspaper that chances of holding a public hearing for Graham were ``remote.''

``At this point, I have had no indication from the members that we need to have a formal hearing to adequately explore this matter,'' he said.

Mike Jones, a spokesman for Gov. George W. Bush, said the governor is confident the board can conduct ``a careful, impartial investigation'' without a formal hearing.

Bush can't halt the execution without a recommendation from the board. He has the authority to issue a one-time, 30-day reprieve in death penalty cases, but Graham already received one in 1993 from then-Gov. Ann Richards.

Graham, 17 at the time, pleaded guilty to 10 aggravated robberies during a weeklong crime spree but denies the rampage began with the fatal shooting of Bobby Lambert on May 13, 1981.

Key testimony came from a single eyewitness who identified Graham as the gunman. That witness has never wavered, but Graham's lawyers say at least two other witnesses never were allowed to testify. Those witnesses initially told police they couldn't identify the killer.

Three jurors who convicted and sentenced Graham to death in 1981 have said new evidence has caused them to doubt his guilt.

The debate over Graham's fate comes amid growing questions around the country about the death penalty. Illinois Gov. George Ryan has placed a moratorium on executions in the state.

Death penalty opponents have staged rallies calling for Bush, who has campaigned for the GOP presidential nomination as a compassionate conservative, to spare Graham's life.

Earlier this month, Bush for the first time authorized a 30-day reprieve for condemned murderer facing imminent death. Citing concerns about pending DNA tests, he granted a reprieve for inmate Ricky McGinn, though Ellis actually signed the order because Bush and Lt. Gov. Rick Perry were out of town.

Meanwhile Tuesday, Graham was visited by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, among those calling for Bush to spare the inmate's life. Jackson met with Graham for about an hour, and afterward described him as hopeful.

``He's faced the death countdown six times now,'' Jackson said. ``He is now making plans for next week. He does not plan to die on Thursday night.''