Though a jury convicted her of capital murder and recommended she be sentenced to death for the 2007 slaying of her 20-year-old daughter, Lisa Leanne Graham still must wait until May 1 to learn her fate.
Circuit Judge Jacob Walker III set her sentencing for 10 a.m. May 1, and though guided by the jury’s recommendation, he is not obligated to adhere to it, Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis said Thursday. Ultimately the judge decides which sentence to impose, and still could choose life in prison.
The jury that deliberated an hour and 50 minutes before finding Graham guilty of murder took only about an hour to decide on the death penalty after defense attorneys argued for life in prison and Davis pushed for execution.
The jury spent an hour and 40 minutes in discussions after closing arguments Wednesday, then asked to be dismissed for the day. They returned at 9 a.m. Thursday, and had a guilty verdict in just 10 minutes.
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The trial then shifted to the “penalty phase,” during which defense attorney Margaret Young Brown asked jurors to consider Graham’s son, now 17, who would lose his mother were she put to death.
The boy nicknamed “Boo” was only 9 when his sister Stephanie Shea Graham was gunned down and his mother charged in her murder along with triggerman Kenneth Walton, a family worker and close friend to his mother.
“We are asking you to consider the son in making a determination on what to do with the mother,” Brown told the jury.
She called Lisa Graham’s mother Cherie Crabb to testify how the case had affected the son. Crabb said the teen suffers post-traumatic stress disorder from the family’s ordeal.
“I tried to shield him from it, but he reads the papers and he’s watched the news on TV,” Crabb said, later adding: “He locks everything inside and he won’t talk about it.”
Brown also asked jurors to consider that Lisa Graham had no prior criminal history, and she had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression by Dr. Edward Lammons, who testified he prescribed medication for those conditions.
Lisa Graham was under intense stress because her marriage was in trouble, an issue she blamed partly on her daughter’s close relationship with her father. When her daughter got in trouble, as she often did, the father always took her side against the mother. Lisa Graham said during interviews recorded at the Russell County Sheriff’s Office.
Brown told jurors to consider that family discord as they pondered which penalty to impose. “It had gone on and on and on,” she said.
Davis told jurors it was “ironic” for the defense to talk of sparing Lisa Graham’s life for the benefit of the child she didn’t kill.
He hammered on the cold-blooded premeditation evident in Lisa Graham’s conspiring with Walton to kill her daughter, whom Walton lured to a remote dirt road near Pittsview and shot six times as she squatted beside his pickup truck to relieve herself.
When Walton testified for the prosecution last week, Davis asked him how he felt after gunning down the young woman who so trusted him that she left her cell phone and her Toyota with friends as she rode off with him on July 5, 2007.
“I felt normal,” Walton answered casually.
In court Thursday, Davis told jurors: “This is not a crime of passion. It’s not something that happened on the spur of the moment.” It was carefully orchestrated, he said.
He earlier had told jurors Shea Graham was an “inconvenience” to her mother, and that’s why she was killed.
Testimony showed the daughter was doing drugs, working as a stripper, dropping out of college, spending her parents’ money, and getting into trouble in Columbus, where she was charged with assault in a drive-by shooting. Her parents had put up a $100,000 bond to get her out of the Muscogee County Jail.
Children who get into trouble often turn their lives around as they mature, Davis told the jury. That Shea Graham was misbehaving at age 20 didn’t mean she would not be a different person at age 22, he said: “She’s never going to have that chance.”
Speaking personally, Davis told jurors he thought he knew love when he married, but decided he didn’t really know until the first time he held his newborn son.
That a parent would do what Lisa Graham did to her own child is unconscionable, he said: “It is beyond comprehension that this woman did what she did. This case calls for the maximum penalty.”
When court ended, Davis told reporters the trial in a death-penalty case is only the first chapter in a long series of appeals, the first to the Alabama Supreme Court.
“Prosecutors are fond of saying that actually this part of this sort of case is more like the beginning than it is like the end, because of the appellate process,” he said.
Sheriff Heath Taylor, who as a lieutenant was a primary investigator in the Graham case, talked about the bizarre circumstances.
Of he and Davis, Taylor said: “Neither of us had seen a biological mother hire or pay someone to kill their daughter, their daughter or son. At some point in the last eight years, we tried to research how many times around the country that had occurred, and we were not able to come up with very many if any cases.”
Homicides involving “heat of the moment” family violence are not uncommon, he said, but that was not the case here: “This was a premeditated, longtime, thought-out situation, so I think that’s what’s so troubling about it.”
Asked about Walton’s betrayal of his young friend Shea Graham, Taylor said: “Let’s don’t try to sugar-coat Kenny Walton. He is as cold a murderer as you will ever find. If you were in the courtroom when they asked him how he felt right after shooting her, his answer was ‘normal.’ That’s as chilling as you’re ever going to get.”
Walton pleaded guilty to Shea Graham’s murder on June 14, 2012. He was sentenced to life in prison with possible parole.
According to the Alabama Department of Corrections, Kenneth Rognet Walton currently is being held in the Bibb Correctional Facility in Brent.
Walton today is 43 years old. Lisa Graham is 47.