Protesters seek delay in execution

Tuesday, June 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Jesse Jackson to lobby on behalf of Graham

AUSTIN - The public-relations fight over death-row inmate Gary Graham intensified Monday, with the Rev. Jesse Jackson announcing he will visit Texas to lobby for and counsel Mr. Graham and - if necessary - witness his execution Thursday.

"I hope that my presence ... will get [Gov. George W.] Bush's attention and there will not be an execution on Thursday," Mr. Jackson said. "If not, I expect on Thursday night to do a painful thing ... watch the state's execution of a man about whom there is reasonable doubt all over the country."

Mr. Graham is scheduled to die for the May 1981 killing of Bobby Lambert in a Houston parking-lot shooting.

Capitol police arrested 15 death-penalty demonstrators outside the governor's mansion Monday night after the protesters refused to clear a driveway where they sat and chanted.

The remainder of the crowd of about 150 proclaimed, "The world is watching" as a wedge-shaped contingent of officers moved in to handcuff and drag away the arrested men and women. They were taken from the scene in Austin police vans.

They were charged with obstructing a passageway, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a maximum of three months in jail and a $2,000 fine, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said.

At least 75 death penalty protesters greeted Gov. Bush's motorcade as he arrived at a fund-raiser in Silicon Valley late Monday to pluck $4 million from Republican donors.

Two protesters managed to get inside a $1,000-per-person reception, where they interrupted Mr. Bush as he began speaking, with shouts of "Stop the execution of Gary Graham! Don't kill an innocent man!"

The women were hustled out by Secret Service and police.

Apart from saying that "the great thing about America is people can express themselves," Mr. Bush ignored the protesters and their issue.

Amid the presidential campaign, opposition has crystallized around Mr. Graham's case. Critics point out that he was convicted largely on the testimony of a single eyewitness.

His supporters have asked Mr. Bush and the state Board of Pardons and Paroles to grant a 120-day delay to hear from other witnesses who have not testified.

Mr. Bush's office turned down a request for a visit from Mr. Jackson to discuss the case. In a letter to Mr. Jackson, Mr. Bush's chief of staff said the governor has a rule against visiting with individuals to discuss cases that will come before him for clemency. The aide suggested that Mr. Jackson make his concerns known to a lawyer in Mr. Bush's office who will counsel the governor on the case.

"That's standard practice," said Michael Jones, a spokesman for the governor. "The governor's legal staff had a lengthy meeting with Mr. Graham's lawyers last week."

Mr. Bush's staff has said he cannot act on his own to delay the execution, because his predecessor, Gov. Ann Richards, had granted the one gubernatorial delay allowed each capital defendant. Mr. Bush can act to delay the execution if that action is recommended by the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The board will not issue a recommendation in the Graham case until about noon Thursday, said a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

Mr. Graham's lawyers, who could not be reached Monday, have said that their last avenue of appeal in the courts would be to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to force a ruling from the governor and parole board.

Besides attention from Mr. Jackson, the case also drew protests Monday from Bianca Jagger, a director of Amnesty International USA, which opposes all executions. In Austin on Monday, she said Mr. Graham should get a new trial.

"It would be a serious miscarriage of justice if the state executes Gary Graham, an innocent man," she said, presenting a letter to that effect addressed to Mr. Bush and Gerald Garrett, chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.

The letter was signed by Mr. Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo and several show-business luminaries.

Meanwhile, in Houston, four victims of other violent crimes admitted by Mr. Graham gathered to publicly denounce the celebrity-studded protest movement.

The four said Mr. Graham's supporters are victims of lies and manipulation.

"I'm so sick of this whole case," robbery victim Rick Sanford said. "For 19 years, making him out for some kind of unjustly, unfairly convicted murderer. This man is one of the worst criminals in Harris County history."

Twenty-two crimes were linked to Mr. Graham during the week that Mr. Lambert was shot. He pleaded guilty to 10 aggravated robberies but said he did not shoot Mr. Lambert.

At Monday's news conference, organized by the Houston-based victims' rights group Justice for All, an empty chair next to the Graham victims was assigned to Mr. Lambert.

Two men told of being robbed and shot by Mr. Graham, one with a shotgun blast to the thigh, the other with a pistol bullet that went through his neck. Mr. Graham was arrested when he fell asleep after raping one of the victims, a cabdriver who was 57 at the time.

"For five hours, it was very unpleasant," said the woman, now 76. "We went many places. One thing he kept saying to me was, 'I've killed three people, and I'm going to kill you.' I believed him."

Staff writer Todd J. Gillman in Palo Alto, Calif., and The Associated Press contributed to this report.