Magazine article Newsweek

A War over Witnesses

Magazine article Newsweek

A War over Witnesses

Article excerpt

To a degree that still troubles veteran lawyers, the case against Gary Graham depended on the testimony of a single eyewitness. Graham, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection this Thursday in Huntsville, Texas, was found guilty of shooting a drug dealer and small-time gambler named Bobby Lambert outside a Safeway store in north Houston in May 1981. The murder weapon was never found and prosecutors had no physical evidence linking Graham to the crime scene. But they had Bernadine Skillern, a 34-year-old secretary and mother of three. Skillern, sitting in her car in the Safeway parking lot, actually saw the murder take place--she even honked her horn in a frantic effort to distract the gunman. "I saw Mr. Graham shoot and kill Mr. Lambert on that parking lot in 1981," she told a press conference in Houston last week. "That has not changed. That is not going to change."

Sounds like a solid case for the prosecution until you know that two other witnesses, both entirely credible, say Graham was not the killer--and no jury has ever heard their testimony. In interviews with NEWSWEEK, these witnesses raise doubts about Graham's conviction and death sentence, now the focus of an increasingly desperate effort to win a stay of execution from the state of Texas and Gov. George W. Bush. Bush supports the death penalty, and his campaign last week had no statement on the Graham case. But capital punishment is now an issue in the presidential race and, in Austin, the governor's staff was treading carefully. Graham's lawyers got a meeting with Bush's general counsel and the chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, which will review the case this week--a sliver of hope for Graham.

The other two witnesses were Sherian Etuk and Ronald Hubbard, both of whom worked at the Safeway back in 1981. Etuk was a checker and Hubbard was a bag boy, and both of them say they got a good look at the slim, handsome African-American man loitering outside the store. …

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