Lisa Graham waited more than five years behind bars for her day in Russell County Circuit Court to face accusations she directed a triggerman to kill her daughter and dispose of the body in July 2007. But her capital murder trial met a new, unexpected delay Tuesday that postponed the case indefinitely.
Judge George R. Greene abruptly declared a mistrial as the third day of testimony was set to begin, saying health issues would prevent him from presiding over the proceedings. Greene, 62, did not disclose further details, but he is known to suffer from a serious diabetic condition that has at times affected his trial docket.
"It took five years to get this far and still nothing," said Graham's mother, Cherie Crabb, who has been an outspoken critic of the pace of the proceedings. "Five years is long enough."
Graham, 45, is accused of arranging for Kenneth R. Walton, a family worker, to kill her daughter, Shea Graham, because she was abusing drugs and had become a burden on the family. The 20-year-old was gunned down and abandoned off a rural road in southern Russell County off Alabama Highway 165.
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Walton pleaded guilty to murder in June and had been expected to testify against Lisa Graham.
The mistrial amounts to a reset button, meaning Lisa Graham goes back to jail and attorneys must strike another jury if no plea agreement is reached. It was not immediately clear whether the case would be reassigned or when it might go to trial. Capital murder cases pose scheduling difficulties, in part because of the time it takes to select a "death-qualified jury," a panel not categorically opposed to capital punishment.
Attorneys spent the better part of last week culling a jury pool, and several prosecution witnesses had already taken the stand, including one who traveled from Arizona. A witness who now lives in Birmingham, Ala., told jurors Monday she had overheard Lisa Graham plotting her daughter's murder with Walton just a few days before the shooting.
"In my tenure, we've never had a mistrial declared in a capital murder case that I'm aware of," said District Attorney Ken Davis, who seemed surprised by the turn of events. Davis' office has been strapped for resources due to state budget cuts.
"We'll retry it," said Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor, who interrogated Lisa Graham after her daughter's murder and elicited what prosecutors have described as a confession. "It's costing us some money, but we can get (the witnesses) back."
Defense attorneys refused to comment as they left the courtroom. Court documents show they had been prepared to call as a defense witness Adam W. Barringer, a man convicted of murder this year who was also charged in a jailbreak.
It wasn't clear whether Greene's other cases would be affected. The judge rarely discusses his health and did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Greene has been a judge since his appointment in 1979 to the District Court bench by then-Gov. Fob James. He was appointed to Circuit Court in 1998, again by James, who had switched parties and won re-election.