Gary Graham (1963-2000), also known as Shaka Sankofa, was a small-time armed robber from Houston, Texas who was put to death in 2000 for the murder of Bobby Lambert. It made the news across America and overseas because the governor of Texas at the time was George Bush, who was then running for president.
It was widely condemned overseas because Graham was 17 at the time of the murder. Only four other countries apply capital punishment to children: Iran, Pakistan, Congo and Nigeria.
The case against Graham was strikingly weak: His gun did not match the bullet that killed Lambert. Only one of the five witnesses placed him at the scene of the crime. Two were sure it was not him. Bobby Lambert did have enemies, but Graham was not one of them.
In 1981 Bobby Lambert gave testimony in court against some drug dealers. One night soon after in front of a Safeway food store in Houston he was shot dead. He was not robbed. Five people saw it.
Ten days later Graham was arrested. A 17-year-old boy with a gun, he was robbing and raping the good people of Houston. He found himself put in police line-ups just when the police were looking for Lambert’s killer.
Only one of the five witnesses picked him out of the line-up and even she failed to pick out his picture earlier.
Having no one else, the police pinned the murder on Graham.
He had no money for a lawyer so the court appointed him one, Ronald Mock. Court appointed lawyers are underpaid and overworked. They try to get you to admit guilt so they can get through their cases quickly.
Graham said he had robbed some people but he never killed anyone, so it went to trial. Mock did little work on the case. He did not know about the other four witnesses. He did not know about the gun not matching the bullet. So neither did the judge and jury.
The judge sentenced Graham to die.
For the next 19 years Graham fought it. No judge wanted to reopen the case. No judge wanted to hear from the other four witnesses. The Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, refused to hear it. The case was reviewed by 33 judges in all. Graham had run out of appeals.
The New York Times was against it and so was the United Nations and Amnesty International. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton came to support Graham. So did Amnesty International in the person of Bianca Jagger. The Ku Klux Klan came too, but probably not in support of Graham, who was black. (Lambert was a white man.)
It took five guards to take him away to be killed. Just before he died he gave an angry speech. He said he was being lynched, that this sort of thing will go on for another hundred years if black people do nothing. Bianca Jagger cried. Then he died.
Bush said justice had been done.