Judge George R. Greene of Russell County Circuit Court ruled today that jurors in the Lisa Graham murder-for-hire trial may hear a series of shifting statements Graham made to law enforcement in the hours after her daughter’s murder. Prosecutors say one of the interviews amounted to a confession.
Graham, 45, is on trial for capital murder in the death of 20-year-old Shea Graham, who was gunned down in July 2007 west of Alabama Highway 165 in the southernmost reaches of the county. Prosecutors say Lisa Graham arranged for confessed triggerman Kenneth R. Walton to kill her daughter because she had become an emotional and financial burden on her family.
There was no monetary agreement, but Walton, who worked for Shea Graham's father, told authorities he killed the woman at her mother's behest. Walton, who is expected to testify in Lisa Graham's trial, pleaded guilty in June and was sentenced to life in prison. Walton recently filed an appeal accusing Lisa Graham of committing the murder, claiming he was "forced to plead guilty by the police after they beat me."
Attorneys spent most of this morning wrangling over the admissibility of Graham's statements to law enforcement. Greene admitted all of the videotaped statements except for a portion of one tape, in which Graham can be heard speaking with her husband in an interview room.
The judge cited marital privilege, and said investigators had not properly advised Graham of her rights at that point.
Graham made a number of incriminating statements in an interview with Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor, who was then a lieutenant over the department's criminal investigations division. Outside the presence of the jury, Taylor today explained how Graham had become "very distraught" over her daughter.
"'I don't know anything else to do but get rid of her,'' Taylor recalled Graham saying in the interview.
Graham acknowledged meeting Walton at the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road, where Walton took Graham's gun from her pickup. Graham also told Taylor she tried to call Walton to stop him from carrying out the killing, but couldn't reach him before it was too late.
Graham's defense attorneys had asked Greene to suppress Graham's statements, saying investigators hadn't properly advised her of her right to have an attorney present during the interrogations. Greene ruled that Graham had signed a waiver of rights and did not ask for an attorney to be present.
Prosecutors called a former Phenix City resident this afternoon who testified she overheard Lisa Graham conspiring with Walton about killing Shea Graham just a few days before her death. The witness, Rachel B. Cunningham, said the mother and daughter "acted like they hated each other," and that there appeared to be some jealousy between the two over Shea Graham's relationship with her father.
"I overheard them talking about how they were goign to kill Shea, what would be the best method, the cleanest method, and where they were going to leave her body,” Cunningham said. “She had talked about wanting to kill her daughter before, to me and other people.”