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The Violent History of Gary Graham

Gary Graham was in trouble with the law since he was a juvenile. But how did he end up on death row? Find out how he ended up getting the death sentence for killing Bobby Lambert. The infamous Gary Graham was known for stating that he killed 6 people and if you wanted to be the seventh, you better do something stupid. 

Let’s look at what lead Mr. Graham to be a part of the death row inmates. 

The Crime

Around 9:30 pm on May 13, 1981, Bobby Grant Lambert was leaving the Safeway Supermarket that was in Houston, Texas. This is when an assailant came to Lambert and put his hand in the rear pocket of Lambert’s clothing. 

When Lambert resisted the burglary attempt, the assailant decided it was time to pull out his pistol and hold it to Lambert’s head. 

This is when Lambert dropped his groceries and the assailant decided to shoot Lambert in the chest. 

When the assailant fled, Lambert was able to stumble back in Safeway, where he later died. 

However, the robber was able to flee the scene with some change from a $100 that was used by Lambert to purchase his groceries in Safeway just moments before. 

However, when police were taking Lambert’s corpse away, they found $6000 all in $100 bills on his body. 

The Victim

Bobby Grant Lambert was a resident from Tucson, Arizona. He was 53 at the time of his murder. 

In May of 1981, he was visiting Houston, Texas. No one knows why Lambert was in Houston Texas, but what people do know he was residing in a nearby motel, and he had checked out just prior to him going to the Safeway Supermarket. 

The Suspect

Gary Graham who happens to be a 5’10” black male abducted Lisa Blackburn, who was 57 years old and a taxi driver that was at a local gas station on May 20, 1981. 

Graham took Blackburn to a vacant lot where he proceeded to rape her. Then Graham went to Blackburn’s house, where he collected all of Blackburn’s valuables and later fell asleep. 

Blackburn was able to take his clothes and his gun away and proceeded to call the local police. When the police finally arrived at Blackburn’s residence, they were able to officially arrest Graham for the abduction and rape of Lisa Blackburn. 

The local police officers were able to link Graham to another 22 crimes that were committed between May 13 to May 20. 

All of Graham’s crimes were committed with a .22 caliber handgun. There was a witness that stated that it was Graham who was the one who murdered Bobby Lambert. After the witness stated this Graham was officially charged with capital murder. 

Graham admitted that he did indeed go on a crime spree and he plead guilty to all 10 cases of aggravated robbery. However, Graham did not plead guilty to murdering Bobby Lambert. 

The Primary Eyewitness

The primary eyewitness was 45-year-old Bernadine Skillern, who is a Houston school district clerk. Skillern happened to be sitting inside her car in the parking lot of the Safeway during the night of the murder. 

Skillern told the local police that she did see a man that put a pistol against Lambert’s head. When she saw this happened, she blew her horn. When she did this the gunman stopped to turn around to look at her. Then she heard a gunshot go off. This is when Lambert dropped his grocery bag and the assailant left the scene of the crime. 

Skillern stated that she indeed got a good look at the assailant for about 90 seconds through her car windshield, which was only about 30 feet away from where the murder happened. 

Officially on May 26, 1981, after she was describing what the assailant looked like to police, she was able to pick out Graham’s mugshot from a photo lineup. 

Then the following day, she was able to identify Graham once again in a face-to-face lineup as well. 

Skillern stated that the assailant was a black male that stood about 5’10” to 6’ tall, between the ages of 18 and 20 years old, had a slim clean-shaven face, and along with a close-cut afro. 

Skillern also stated that the assailant was rocking some black slacks and a white jacket and carrying a gun that had a long barrel. 

The Trial

In October of 1981, Graham’s trial officially started in Harris County, Texas. In the state of Texas, if the defendant is convicted of murder, they can be punished by death, if the murder meets the criteria that is hashed out in the Texas Penal Code. Texas Penal Code states that if the murder is of a firefighter or police officer, and if the defendant killed over two people, if the defendant did a murder for hire, or if the murder was intentionally happened while a burglary, kidnapping, or aggravated rape was going on. 

However, Gary Graham was officially charged with capital murder due to him robbing Lambert at the time of the murder. 

You should note that all capital trials will be a bit different than just ordinary murder trials as the defendant in murder trials will not be eligible to receive the death penalty. 

However, in capital cases, the jury selection will be different as it required the jurors to be “death qualified. What we mean by death-qualified is they will need to be able to consider mitigating and aggravating evidence and be able to give the death sentence in such a case. 

When the jury is finally selected, then the state will have the task of proving that the defendant is guilty with no reasonable doubt all while offering the best of the best evidence to convince the jury of their stance. 

All while the defendant’s legal team will rebut all the prosecution’s case by submitting their own evidence and establishing their timeline along with their witnesses. 

The Defense Attorneys

As we have previously mentioned Graham’s case was being held in Harris County, Texas. Just like many of the other counties within the state of Texas, Harris County did not have any sort of public defender system.

Instead within these counties, the judges of the case will appoint the defendant to a private lawyer, which most of the defendants are unable to afford an attorney to properly represent them. 

Graham was appointed Ron Mock. Mock was the lawyer who was appointed for at least 10 percent of all capital cases that were happening in Harris County for the three years prior to the Graham capital murder case.

Mock was reported around the county as a popular lawyer with all the Harris County Judges. This was one of the few reasons why Mock was commonly appointed to clients that were black.  

Graham also had an additional lawyer on his case. This lawyer was Chester Thornton. Thornton had already represented Graham prior to when he was a juvenile. Thornton was asked once again by Graham’s family to represent him as an adult this time. 

The Prosecuting Attorney

During the time of Graham’s case, the Harris County District Attorney was Johnny Holmes. Holmes was well-known for his aggressiveness to seek the death penalty in nearly ALL cases that were eligible. Holmes practice of this was what put the Harris County on the map for giving out death sentences. 

During Holmes 20 years as District Attorney, he was able to get over 200 death verdicts. Not to mention that 10 percent of those death verdicts were officially executed within the modern death penalty era as well. 

The Prosecution’s Case

The prosecution’s team built their case around their star eyewitness, Bernadine Skillern. However, that was not the state’s only eyewitness either. The state also had two other eyewitnesses, Daniel Grady and Wilma Amos. These two stated that they did not get a good look at the face of the assailant to make the best identification, but they could say that it was more than likely Graham as he met the general description of the person that they did see. 

Skillern was able to testify in court that she indeed identified on May 26 Graham in a photo lineup and then on May 27 she was able to identify Graham again in a face-to-face line up. She even then identified him while he was in the courtroom as well. 

The Defense Case

Richard Trevathan the judge overseeing the case then decided it was time to conduct what is known as a pre-trial hearing. This pre-trial hearing was to see if Skillern’s identification of the defendant was a result of what she saw or of suggestive police procedures.

The defense team stated that Skillern was able to give a general description of the assailant prior to being shown a photo of Graham. However, the defense team did state that Graham’s photo in the lineup was the ONLY photo that would have matched her description anyway, so she was bound to pick that photo over the others. 

However, Judge Trevathan ruled that Skillern identification of Graham was based on her recollection and not a part of any suggestive police procedures.  Judge Trevathan, therefore, allowed Skillern to testify in court. 

The Verdict

The final verdict was pretty darn unanimous. All 12 jurors found Gary Graham guilty of murdering Bobby Lambert. 

Texas Death Row & Execution of Gary Graham

The state was able to identify Grahams prior criminal history and how Graham liked to use excessive violence for the main reason for giving him the death penalty. 

By the time Graham was 15 years old, he already had a pretty extensive record that consisted of unauthorized use of motor vehicles and thefts. Graham even dropped out of school when he was in seventh grade and even fathered two children as well.

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