Lisa Graham's murder-for-hire case in daughter's death goes before Alabama Supreme Court

Delays, appeals have prolonged 2007 homicide case

spedersen@ledger-enquirer.comOctober 25, 2013 

More than 2,300 days have passed since Stephanie Shea Graham's lifeless body was found on Bowden Road, between U.S. 431 and Alabama 165 near Pittsview, Ala.

The murder case against her mother, Lisa Graham, accused of hiring a family worker to kill her daughter six years ago, now is headed to the Alabama Supreme Court, again delaying the prolonged judicial proceedings.

As the Supreme Court could take months to render a decision, the aging case may enter its seventh year in the judicial system.

On Oct. 17, Graham's attorneys filed an appeal to the state's highest court after the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals denied Graham's claim that to try her again for her daughter's homicide would constitute double jeopardy.

After years of delay, Graham's murder trial finally began in September 2012, but Judge George Greene declared a mistrial Sept. 25, 2012, saying he no longer could preside because of his poor health.

Graham's attorneys argue Greene could have carried on, but the judge felt compelled by Chief Circuit Judge Al Johnson to cut the proceedings short. If Greene did not on his own decide his ailments required a mistrial, that raises doubt that discontinuing the trial was by law a "manifest necessity," with no alternative. If a mistrial wasn't necessary, then retrying Graham would constitute double jeopardy, prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and by the Alabama constitution, the defense contends.

In rejecting that argument earlier this month, the appeals court wrote:

"Judge Greene testified that he has had diabetes for 15 years and at the time of Graham's trial he had a 'vitreous hemorrhage in his right eye,' which resulted in headaches and blurred vision for distant objects. He said that he knew he needed medical treatment but that he delayed treatment to complete the trial. After consulting with the Presiding Judge of that circuit, he said he was ‘ordered’ to declare a mistrial because of his 'medical status.'"

Referring to Lee County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Walker, who was appointed to replace Greene and rejected the defense attorneys’ double-jeopardy claim after a hearing this past July, the appeals court added:

"Judge Johnson testified that he was aware of Judge Greene's past medical problems, that he had been alerted that Judge Green was sleeping during voir dire, that he urged Judge Greene to seek medical help, and that he did not order Judge Greene to declare a mistrial. There was also testimony that there was no other judge in the circuit that could handle Graham's case if a mistrial had not been declared.... Judge Walker stated: 'It appears that the mistrial was not declared to protect the interests of any one individual; it was declared out of a need to protect the rights of all parties, including the immediate health concerns of Judge Greene, and to promote the substantial ends of public justice.'"

Jailed five years while awaiting a trial repeatedly delayed, Graham today is free on bond.

She is accused of hiring Kenneth Walton to kill her 20-year-old daughter, whom Walton shot six times in the head and torso before leaving the body on Bowden Road. The body was found July 5, 2007.

Investigators said Walton confessed to the homicide, acting it out for them. He told them he killed the daughter at the behest of her mother, who promised to support him if he complied.

Officers said Lisa Graham was frustrated by her daughter's drug use and feared Shea Graham would jump bail on charges she faced in a drive-by shooting in Columbus. She was due in court the morning her body was found.

Walton pleaded guilty June 14, 2012, and was sentenced to life in prison, with possible parole. He has agreed to testify against Lisa Graham.

Reporter Tim Chitwood contributed to this report.

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