- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2000

A Texas killer who proclaimed his innocence to the end was executed Thursday night after a flurry of last-minute appeals failed and tense protests brought hundreds outside the jail.
The execution took place around 9:45 p.m. EDT.
Late appeals failed in the Supreme Court on a 5-4 vote and in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Gary Graham's attorneys then tried to win a civil action challenging the constitutionality of the Texas clemency process; a federal judge ruled he did not have jurisdiction.
Appeals courts had already rejected Graham's arguments that he was convicted on shaky evidence from a single eyewitness and that his trial lawyer did a poor job.
The day of legal maneuvers and emotional demonstrations began in Austin, when the 18-member state Board of Pardons and Parole refused to grant clemency to Graham in a vote announced at 2 p.m. in a written statement distributed outside of Attorney General John Cornyn's building.
"I can say, unequivocally, that the board's decision not to recommend clemency was reached after a complete and unbiased review of the petition and evidence submitted," said Gerald Garrett, the chairman of the panel.
The vote was 14-3 against an asked-for 120-day reprieve, 12-5 against a commutation and 17-0 against a pardon.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he supported the parole board's decision and pointed out that Graham's case had been reviewed more than 20 times by state and federal courts.
"After considering all of the facts I am convinced justice is being done," Mr. Bush said after the appeals were denied. "May God bless the victim, the family of the victim, and may God bless Mr. Graham."
Graham, 36, was convicted of killing 53-year-old Bobby Lambert in a Houston supermarket parking lot 19 years ago. He pleaded guilty to 10 robberies around the same time but said he was innocent of the murder.
"Because of human error and human frailty, we are about to put to death a man who is innocent," said Richard Burr, another of Graham's attorneys.
Graham had vowed to "fight like hell" before being strapped to the gurney where the lethal injection was administered.
While the case was being litigated, the debate carried itself into the streets of Austin, where the parole board met, and Huntsville, where the state's death house was surrounded by protesters.
Demonstrators standing outside the Huntsville jail where Graham was executed chanted "murderers" and vowed that his death would not go unavenged. Some, in frustration and defiance, burned a U.S. flag. Others tried to attack Ku Klux Klan members backing the execution, only to be thrown to the ground and arrested.
A large pro-execution crowd a block away shouted "Texas should follow the law" and "eradicate the animal."
Mr. Cornyn defended his state and Mr. Bush in a packed press conference following the parole board's afternoon announcement that more or less cast the die.
"Mr. Graham's claims of innocence have been heard over the last 19 years," said Mr. Cornyn, who was elected in 1998. "I think that the fact that our governor is running for president has something to do with the number of cameras here today."
Later in the day, the state high court and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Graham's arguments that he was convicted on shaky evidence from one eyewitness and that his trial lawyer did a poor job.
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 to deny his appeal for a stay of execution, although at least one of the four justices who voted for a stay had to have refused to hear Graham's appeal on the merits. Four justices are sufficient to agree to hear a case.
The parole board's announcement met with loud reproach by a dozen death-penalty foes who had gathered outside the building.
"This only angers us more," said Lily Hughes, 27, a member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty. "We are sad, we are devastated, but we are also angry. It doesn't end here."
The group has worked feverishly for the past several months to get another trial for Graham. Posters showing a photo of the convict loudly greet pedestrians on Guadalupe Street, a main drag adjacent to the University of Texas.
"Don't Let Bush Execute Gary Graham," the poster beseeched, alongside posters for beer bashes and live bands.
"Bush and Cornyn are willing to sacrifice a life to make sure our state is known for its death penalty," Miss Hughes said. "This is a system that can't be fixed."
In the hours leading up to the execution, he refused meals but met for about an hour with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whom he designated his spiritual adviser, his stepmother, and Bianca Jagger of Amnesty International. Mr. Jackson said he and Graham talked and prayed.
"He was amazingly upbeat," Mr. Jackson said. "There were no tears shed. He had a sense of inner peace. He feels he was being used as a kind of change agent to expose the system. With every passing hour … there is mass education around the world about what is happening in Texas."
Six persons were arrested outside the prison yesterday for breaking through police lines; other activists burned American flags. Another 150 persons protested outside the governor's mansion in Austin.
The Graham case, viewed by some as a conviction based on less than solid evidence, had captivated interest worldwide, from world religious leaders to anti-death penalty activists, movie stars and black militants. Several victims' rights groups became equally vocal.
About five minutes before the scheduled execution, pro-Graham protesters attempted to storm the barricades to get closer to the Klan group, but were wrestled to the ground and arrested.
"Let's get these weirdoes on their way," said Amy Smits, who works at an office-supply store near the downtown square. "We don't need this kind of trouble here."
Mr. Jackson, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Miss Jagger and several ministers of varied stripe visited with Mrs. Elnora Graham, the defendant's stepmother and other members of the family, who broke down in tears when the parole board's decision was read aloud in the afternoon.

This article is based in part on wire-service reports.

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