Crime

UPDATE: Jury recommends death sentence for Lisa Graham

Update: After deliberating for about an hour, the jury has recommended a sentence of death for Lisa Graham. Judge Jacob Walker III set the sentencing for 10 a.m. May 1. Update: The jury took less than two hours to find Lisa Graham guilty for hiring a hitman to murder her daughter, Stephanie Shea Graham, in 2007.

Jurors deliberated an hour and 40 minutes Wednesday, then asked to be dismissed until today, when they had a verdict in 10 minutes. They'll now enter the sentencing phase where the jury will decide whether Lisa Graham deserves the death penalty.

Police say in July 2007 Lisa Graham hired Kenneth Walton to kill her daughter who had become an "inconvenience."

That “inconvenience” involved many issues the mother had with her daughter, witnesses said: Shea Graham was using drugs; she was working as a stripper and possibly as a prostitute; she had dropped out of college; and she’d been charged with assault in a drive-by shooting in Columbus, where her parents put up a $100,000 bond to get her out of jail.

Original story: It’s among the oddest murder cases to come to trial in Russell County: A mother accused of having her own daughter gunned down just for being too much trouble.

District Attorney Ken Davis, a prosecutor for 38 years, noted the surreal nature of the case against Lisa Graham in his closing arguments to the jury Wednesday.

“This is one of the most troubling, soul-searching kind of cases I’ve seen,” he said.

He insisted the evidence proved the prosecution’s claims the mother out of frustation had family worker and friend Kenneth Walton use her 9mm pistol to kill her 20-year-old daughter Stephanie Shea Graham, who Lisa Graham said was destroying her marriage and ruining her life.

Davis used quotes from recorded conversations between Lisa Graham, her husband Kevin Graham and then-Lt. Heath Taylor to show the defendant’s repeated remarks about wanting her daughter killed were more than just talk.

Even after learning of her daughter’s murder, Lisa Graham still lamented how much trouble Shea Graham had caused her, Davis noted.“I told you that child would ruin my life, didn’t I?” Lisa Graham told her husband at the county sheriff’s office, where the conversation was videotaped. “She’s dead and she’s still haunting me.”

Though she denied having their daughter killed, she told her husband she was a killer, saying, “Yes, Kevin, I’m a cold-blooded killer. Yes, I am. But I don’t do family members and you know that.”

She also told him, “This is the first time I’ve ever been caught.”

She said she loaned Walton her gun believing he was going to kill someone else: “Kenny said to me he had somebody he needed to get rid of.”

She said she didn’t realize Walton intended to kill Shea Graham until it was too late, though “I tried to stop him.”

She gave different versions of what she and Walton discussed the evening of July 5, 2007, when they met at the Columbus Public Library on Macon Road, where Walton got her pistol from her Chevrolet Avalanche a few hours before he gunned the daughter down on Bowden Road near Pittsview, shooting her six times, twice in the head.

Lisa Graham at first said she and Walton never discussed Shea Graham. Later she said she expressed frustration with her daughter and told Walton she just wanted to be rid of her:

“I said, ‘God, I wish somebody would kill her,’ and he thought I meant it.”

She said Walton told her the only solution he could see was to “get rid” of Shea Graham, and the mother replied: “Kenny, I don’t know what else to do.”

Walton testified against Lisa Graham last week, saying she asked him to kill the daughter, and he did so as “a favor.” To the jury Wednesday, Davis said Lisa Graham incriminated herself: “You don’t have to believe anything Kenny Walton said, to convict this woman. You just have to believe what she said.”

Of Shea Graham, he added, “She was murdered for the convenience of her mother, because she was an inconvenience.”

That “inconvenience” involved many issues the mother had with her daughter, witnesses said: Shea Graham was using drugs; she was working as a stripper and possibly as a prostitute; she had dropped out of college; and she’d been charged with assault in a drive-by shooting in Columbus, where her parents put up a $100,000 bond to get her out of jail.

Lisa Graham also suspected her daughter was having an affair with her husband, who always took Shea Graham’s side in family disputes, which was contributing to the breakup of the parents’ marriage.

Davis in his closing also noted how incriminating Lisa Graham’s conduct was after her daughter was found dead. Walton had returned the pistol to her, but when investigators came looking for it, she said she didn’t know where it was, though she had given it to a neighbor to clean.

She also expressed little worry when three friends who’d been with Shea Graham the night she died told her the daughter had met Walton at a Columbus service station, left with him in his truck, and never returned. Lisa Graham casually remarked that Shea Graham probably was lying dead somewhere.

In her closing, defense attorney Margaret Young Brown told jurors the prosecution had not proved a crucial element of the capital murder case: That Lisa Graham either paid or promised Walton payment to kill her daughter.

For Lisa Graham to get the death penalty, she must have paid or promised Walton “an unspecified sum of United States currency or other valuable consideration,” Brown said. Walton testified he killed Shea Graham to return a favor, not for pay, though he said Lisa Graham told him to call her if he ever needed anything.

Of the payoff, Brown told jurors: “If that’s not there, you can’t find my client guilty of capital murder.”

When Shea Graham left three companions to ride off with Walton that Thursday night in 2007, she told her friends she and Walton were going to “hit a lick,” meaning commit a crime. Brown said the two likely committed crimes together before.

With Shea Graham due in court the next morning to face assault charges in Columbus, Walton may have feared she would implicate him in their crimes to get a lighter penalty as a prosecution witness, Brown said, so Walton may have had his own motive to kill her.

That Lisa Graham repeatedly talked about killing her daughter was so commonplace as to be unremarkable, as years passed without her taking any action.

“My client is frustrated with her daughter, but that has continued for years,” Brown said.

The jury retired for deliberation at 3:10 p.m. Whether Lisa Graham paid or promised Walton anything for the homicide came up again when jurors sent out a note seeking clarification on what constituted payment. The foreman in open court told Judge Jacob Walker III that they understood no monetary amount was in evidence.

Walker interrupted and told the foreman to put any questions in writing.

If the jury decides Walton neither was paid nor promised any reward, it still can convict Lisa Graham of murder as Walton’s accomplice, but it cannot impose the death penalty, attorneys said.

Without a verdict, the jury was dismissed for the day at 4:50 p.m. It’s to return at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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