Less than three weeks before Lisa Graham faces a retrial in the murder-for-hire death of her 20-year-old daughter, a Lee County Circuit Judge agreed Wednesday that it was necessary to declare a mistrial last year.
The decision came from Judge Jacob A. Walker after a two-hour hearing in Russell County Circuit Court. Initially seeking to have the case dismissed based on double jeopardy, Graham's attorneys Margaret Brown and Bobby Poole immediately declared that they would seek a ruling from the court on whether the July 22 trial should move forward. If a writ of mandamus is filed, Walker said the court would be instructed not to send out questionnaires for jurors in the upcoming trial.
Graham, 45, has been free on bond since January after a mistrial was declared during her September trial in Judge George R. Greene's courtroom. She is accused of hiring a hit man to kill her daughter, Shea Graham, in July 2007 off Alabama Highway 165.
During Wednesday's hearing, Graham's attorneys and deputy district attorney Buster Landreau heard testimony from Greene and Circuit Judge Al Johnson on events that led up to the mistrial.
Greene said a jury was selected and the
trial had been under way since Sept. 17, 2012. Witnesses had been called all day on Sept. 24. The next morning, just before 9 a.m., Greene said he was ordered by Johnson to declare a mistrial. Johnson told him that he had received reports of Greene sleeping during the trial.
The reason for the mistrial was stated as health reasons. Greene said he thought he could get through the trial even with his failing health.
Greene said Wednesday he had problems with blurred vision in one eye during the trial. He had laser surgery once in November and again in February to correct problems after the mistrial.
Before the decision was made on the mistrial, Greene said it was never discussed with the defense attorneys before Wednesday's hearing.
Under questions from Landreau, Greene said he also had other health issues, including high blood pressure, gout, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Greene said he took medical leave Oct. 1 and returned in December. "I went to my doctors and they felt I could continue," he said.
When the judge was asked if he ever felt 100 percent, he said, "I never do."
While the trial was underway on Sept. 20, Greene thought he could get through it. "I thought it would last another week," he said.
Johnson's testimony followed Greene's, at which time court officials cleared the courtroom to hear what Johnson said to Greene on the day of the mistrial. The decision to empty the courtroom of everyone except the attorneys, judges and suspect was sought in a motion considered last month.
Poole said he wanted to hear the allegations of Greene falling asleep. "It's an extraordinary situation to declare a mistrial in a capital murder trial," he said.
Landreau said there is no evidence the state of Alabama brought this mistrial. "He required two months of medical care before he could take cases again," he said. "He was ill."