Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Harrison Graham: The Corpse Collector

An Unusual Sentence

In May 1988, taking about an hour, Latrone offered his decision, although none of Graham's family was present to hear it.  Latrone did not look at the defendant when he sentenced Graham to six consecutive sentences of seven to fourteen years, six death sentences and one life term.  Yet in an unusual move, he added that Graham was not to be executed until after he'd served the life sentence.  Moldovsky found this ruling to be "Solomonic" and compassionate.  In essence, it meant that Graham had received a life sentence without the possibility of parole.  Latrone said that Graham's terrible neglect during childhood, along with no prior criminal convictions, had been mitigating factors. The single life sentence was for DeShazor's murder. She was the first, so there were no other murders to add aggravating factors.  King stated that "all interests were protected."

The sentence was unprecedented, and it effectively wiped out Moldovsky's decision to appeal, because he did not want to risk a change that might be worse for his client.  Still, no one foresaw what would happen.

In prison in Pittsburgh, Graham studied religion and was ordained. He seemed happy.  But then in 1994, a law clerk for the state Supreme Court submitted the case for routine review and several officials called the sentence illegal.  In a unanimous ruling, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court said that the death sentence must be carried out, which put Graham in immediate jeopardy of being executed.  That, too, was controversial, because many believed that the justices ought only to have vacated the sentence and remanded it.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chambers
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chambers

The execution was scheduled for December 7, but Latrone stayed it.  The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, so the date was reset for August 1986.  Other delays pushed the case into the year 2002, when the U.S. Supreme Court banned the execution of the mentally retarded.  Graham's team set about to prove that he met that standard, despite the fact that he was able to function.  One psychiatrist said that he tested lower than he functioned, so even if his IQ was below 70, he was not mentally retarded.  Nevertheless, he'd had an onset of mental illness before the age of 18, and that, too, was part of the criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association.

Finally, on December 20, 2003, some seventeen years after his initial sentencing, Marty Graham was deemed incompetent to be executed.  His death sentence was vacated and his life sentence restored.  He continues to practice as a minister behind bars.

Coal Township Jail, where Graham is incarcerated.
Coal Township Jail, where Graham is incarcerated.

 

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