Shaka Sankofa aka Gary Graham was seventeen years old when he murdered a woman. According to court documents Shaka Sankofa was on a one man crime wave where he committed armed robberies, sexual assaults and would end in murder. Gary Graham would murder a woman in a parking lot during a robbery. Shaka Sankofa would be captured after a woman he raped and robbed was able to get hold of the gun and held him until police arrived. Gary Graham would be sentenced to death.
However Shaka Sankofa would deny that he was responsible for the murder and would maintain his innocence until he was executed by the State of Texas.
Shaka Sankofa AKA Gary Graham Other News
Gary Graham, 36, was executed by lethal injection on 22 June in Huntsville, Texas for the murder of a 53-year-old man outside a supermarket. On 13 May 1981, Bobby Lambert was coming out of a supermarket when an assailant reached into his pockets and shot him with a pistol as they scuffled. The robber got away with the change from a $100 bill.
Gary Graham, then 17, was arrested a week later (20 May) for the rape and robbery of a taxi driver. Lisa Blackburn said that Graham abducted her at a gas station, took her to a vacant place and repeatedly raped her.
Then, they went to her house, where he took her valuables, shot up the walls, got undressed, and fell asleep. Blackburn then took Graham’s gun and called police, who arrested him at the scene. Blackburn said that during the 5-hour ordeal, Gary Graham kept saying to her “I’ve killed three people, and I’m going to kill you.”
Police linked 22 crimes that occurred from 13 to 20 May to Graham. On 16 May, Gary Spiers was robbed and shot in the thigh with a sawed-off shotgun. From a hospital bed, he identified Graham as the shooter to police. Spiers said that Gary Graham saw he was having car trouble and offered to give him a lift, and attempted to rob him after he got in Graham’s car.
Gary Graham was also identified by Greg Jones as the man who shot him in the throat and left him for dead. In all, Gary Graham was suspected in 19 aggravated robberies — including the shootings of Spiers and Jones and the rape of Blackburn — two auto thefts, and Lambert’s murder. He pleaded guilty to ten of the robberies.
On the night of Bobby Lambert’s murder, Bernadine Skillern was sitting in her car in the parking lot. She said that when a man put a pistol to Lambert’s head, she blew her horn, and the gunman turned to look at her. There was a pop, Lambert dropped his bag of groceries, and the other man fled. She followed him in her car until her screaming children made her stop.
Skillern said that she got a good look at the killer for about a minute and a half. After Gary Graham was arrested, Skillern picked his mug shot and chose him from a police lineup. She identified him at trial and has continued to do so ever since.
Gary Graham has admitted responsibility for the other crimes, but says he did not kill Bobby Lambert and that Skillern’s identification of him is mistaken. Two other eyewitnesses, though they could not identify the killer because neither saw his face, nevertheless said it could not have been Graham, because he is 5’10”, while the assailant they saw was between 5’3″ and 5’6″. Graham also faults his attorney, who did not call the other two eyewitnesses to testify and did not cross-examine Skillern.
Most capital murder cases are decided without any eyewitnesses. A number of criminal defense attorneys have stated that they prefer when there is an eyewitness because it gives them a chance to create reasonable doubt. Harris County defense attorney Robert Morrow said, “I see there’s an eyewitness and I see an opportunity.” Another local defense lawyer, Floyd Freed, said, “it certainly gives me more hope at trial” if the prosecutors present an eyewitness.
Death penalty cases are usually decided on confessions, physical evidence, and/or circumstantial evidence. In Graham’s case, there was no confession or physical evidence, and circumstantial evidence was weak, so the prosecutors had to base most of their case on Bernadine Skillern’s testimony.
At his trial, Gary Graham gave no alibi for his whereabouts on the night Bobby Lambert was killed. His lawyer said Graham told him only that he had spent the evening with a girlfriend whose name, description, and address he could not remember.
On appeal, four witnesses came forward to offer alibis for Graham, but when two of them — one was his wife — were called to testify before a state district judge, they contradicted themselves and each other and were deemed not credible.
Graham’s case attracted national attention from the media, anti-death-penalty groups, and even Hollywood. As the date drew nearer, each side offered new evidence to support their positions. Graham’s attorneys presented signed affidavits from three jurors who said they had a change of heart because they did not know about the other two eyewitnesses when they sentenced him to death.
Harris County prosecutors filed an affidavit signed by the bailiff who escorted Gary Graham from the courtroom after his death sentence, who heard him say, “Next time, I’m not going to leave any witnesses.” A prosecutor filed an affidavit stating that the bailiff related the comment to him within minutes of the time it was allegedly made. Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes noted that Graham’s case was reviewed 35 times by the courts and that his conviction was never overturned. The Supreme Court rejected Graham’s appeal in May.
Gary Graham, who called himself Shaka Sankova since 1995, was in the top 25 in Texas death row seniority and had seven prior execution dates. In January 1999, he called for violence and asked his supporters to go to Huntsville armed with AK-47 rifles to stop his execution.
New Black Muslim Movement leader Quanell X urged young blacks to take out their anger against whites in wealthy neighborhoods if this execution was carried out. And recently, Gary Graham reiterated his intention to “stop this thing by any means necessary.”
Many Huntsville businesses closed early Thursday because of safety concerns. The Walker County courthouse closed at noon and city officials advised business owners to clear the area. Prison workers who live in about 30 houses near the Walls Unit, where all Texas executions are performed, were told to leave and staffers in the administrative offices were given the day off.
Police set up barricades Wednesday night and set up two protest areas on opposite sides of the Walls Unit, one side for Graham’s supporters and the other side for the Ku Klux Klan. At noon on Thursday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Graham a 120-day reprieve by a 14-3 vote.
The board also voted against commuting his punishment (12-5) and against a pardon (17-0). Later in the afternoon, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, both of which had turned down Graham’s appeals in the past, did so again.
The Supreme Court’s vote fell 5 to 4. Graham’s lawyers’ final move was to file a civil suit against the Texas parole board. A federal judge rejected that suit and Graham’s attorneys did not appeal that ruling. The execution, scheduled for 6:00 p.m., was delayed for over two hours because of the last-minute appeals and lawsuit.
Though under Texas law the governor has the power to grant one 30-day stay of execution per prisoner, that option was not available to Governor George W. Bush because his predecessor, Ann Richards, used it on Gary Graham in 1993.
Even if that option was available to him, however, it is a given that Bush, who said he supported the execution, would not have used it. Outside the Walls Unit, a small fight broke out when some of Graham’s supporters snuck into the Klan demonstration area, but a riot team from the Texas Department of Public Safety quickly moved in to stop it. After the Supreme Court’s decision was announced, Graham supporters broke through police lines and six were arrested.
Gary Graham resisted and fought the guards who took him from death row in Livingston to the Walls Unit in Huntsville Wednesday evening. He refused meals that night and on Thursday.
Extra restraints were used to strap him to the gurney, where he made a long, defiant final statement in which he said he was being lynched and that the death penalty was a “holocaust for black people in America.” Gary Graham, a.k.a. Shaka Sankova, was pronounced dead at 8:59 p.m.
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Gary Graham Execution
During the period May 14 through May 20 of 1981, Gary Graham robbed some 13 different victims at nine different locations, in each instance leveling either a pistol or a sawed-off shotgun on the victim. Two of the victims were pistol-whipped, one being shot in the neck; a 64-year old male victim was struck with the vehicle Gary Graham was stealing from him; and a 57-year old female victim was kidnapped and raped.
A total of 19 eyewitnesses positively identified Graham as the perpetrator. Gary Graham pled guilty to and was sentenced to 20-year concurrent prison sentences for 10 different aggravated robberies committed May 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, and 20, 1981. During the armed robbery of one victim, Richard B. Sanford, Gary Graham boasted of having killed six other people already.
On May 13, 1981, at 9:35pm, Bobby Grant Lambert was robbed and murdered in a Safeway parking lot in north Houston, Texas. Four out of the original five witnesses described the murderer as a young, thin black male, from medium height to tall. On May 27th, 17-year-old Gary Graham, a 5’9″, 145 lb. black male, was positively identified as Mr. Lambert’s murderer by Bernadine Skillern, the one eyewitness who clearly saw the killer’s face.
Five months later, Gary Graham was convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. By the time he was executed 19 years later, Gary Graham had secured the support and following of anti-death penalty activists who insisted that he was innocent and the death penalty was racist, including Danny Glover, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. Gary Graham resisted and fought the guards who took him from death row and made a long, defiant final statement just before his execution.
Gary Graham Execution
Gary Lee Graham, who transformed from another convict on death row into a cause celebre for the anti-death penalty movement, was executed by injection late Thursday after a day of prison-side protests and frenzied legal maneuvering.
“I would like to say I did not kill Bobby Lambert,” Graham said in an angry, rambling, six-minute statement from the gurney. “I’m an innocent black man being murdered today. What is happening here is an outrage.”
He was pronounced dead at 8:49 p.m. CDT.
Graham, who had vowed to “fight like hell” on the trip to the death chamber, put up a struggle. He was strapped to the gurney around his wrists and across his head – more restraints than are normally used in Texas executions.
He made a long, defiant final statement in which he reasserted his innocence, said he was being lynched and called the death penalty a holocaust for black Americans. He asked to be called Shaka Sankofa to reflect his African heritage.
“I die fighting for what I believed in,” Graham said. “The truth will come out.”
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who said he could do nothing once the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommended the execution go forward, said he supported the execution and pointed out that Graham’s case had been reviewed by 33 state and federal judges.
“After considering all of the facts I am convinced justice is being done,” Bush said after final appeals were denied. “May God bless the victim, the family of the victim, and may God bless Mr. Graham.”
Lambert’s grandson, Bobby Hanners, witnessed the execution and expressed his sympathy that Graham’s family would now endure the sorrow his family felt 19 years ago.
“My heart goes out to the Graham family, as they begin the grieving process,” he said. “I also pray that Gary Graham has made peace with God. But I truly feel that justice has been served.”
After media and other witnesses, including Hanners, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Robert Muhammad of the Nation of Islam in Houston, entered the Huntsville Unit on their way to the death-chamber area, protesters began chanting, “Thou shalt not kill.”
Other witnesses for the victim were the Rev. Al Sharpton, Bianca Jagger, Justice for All president Dianne Clements and Rick Sanford, a 1981 Graham robbery victim, and Roe Wilson, an appellate specialist with the Harris County district attorney’s office.
“This is the end of 19 years of legal battle, where Mr. Graham was vigorously and legally represented,” Wilson said afterward. “He was given every consideration for his claims. It was time for this to be carried out.”
When the witnesses emerged shortly before 9 p.m., the crowd turned silent. Uniformed officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety raised their riot shields and stepped toward them in a line. Behind them were Texas Department of Criminal Justice officers with visored helmets, batons and plastic “flexicuffs.”
The suddenly silent crowd turned toward the officers and began pointing at them and shouting, “Shaka was innocent” and “Long live Shaka,” a reference to Graham’s adopted name of Shaka Sankofa. One protester held a U.S. flag upside-down. Another burned an effigy of Bush, while another man holding a large cardboard syringe shouted, “Die, die, die.”
A large part of the crowd then began running away from the prison.
A solid majority of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles refused at midday to recommend issuing a reprieve or commuting Graham’s death sentence. The board unanimously rejected a conditional pardon for the 36-year-old inmate.
The Supreme Court later ruled 5-4 against a last-minute stay, but the execution was delayed more than two hours as attorneys filed a civil lawsuit in Austin and, when that was denied, an appeal with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
When the Texas parole board, made up of 18 Bush appointees, refused to block the execution, that left the Republican governor with no options. The single 30-day reprieve a Texas governor may unilaterally give a condemned inmate was issued to Graham by Bush’s predecessor in 1993.
The parole board, which has spared a prisoner only once during Bush’s tenure, could have granted a 120-day reprieve, a commutation to a lesser sentence, or a conditional pardon.
Houston attorneys Richard Burr and Jack Zimmermann have worked since 1993 to bring what they call new evidence before a jury.
In numerous appeals, they have attacked the testimony of lone eyewitness Bernardine Skillern and brought forward witnesses to the crime who were not called to testify in the original trial.
At an afternoon news conference in Zimmermann’s Galleria-area office, both men appeared emotional and Zimmermann choked up at one point.
“We as a state, because of human error, human frailty and no will to acknowledge our own frailty, are about to put to death man who is innocent,” said Burr. “There is no greater miscarriage of justice, or travesty, or horror that a state can do to one of its citizens than this.”
For 19 years after the May 13, 1981, killing, Graham steadfastly maintained his innocence. That ignited a variety of legal challenges over the years and spurred criticism of the Texas criminal justice system.
On Thursday, it also sparked often-intense protest outside the death chamber at the Huntsville Unit here.
Graham supporters and anti-death penalty protesters began gathering by 11 a.m. and sweltered in the heat. They beat drums, chanted slogans and criticized Bush in a series of mostly peaceful demonstrations throughout the afternoon.
“Don’t do anything that would justify them hurting or harming any of us,” Houston activist Quanell X told the crowd, noting the dozens of uniformed prison and state police personnel assembled.
As the scheduled hour for Graham’s execution – 6 p.m. – arrived, several protesters ran into a restricted area directly in front of the prison waving flags and shouting “Free Shaka Sankofa.” Eight people were arrested; seven on charges of disorderly conduct and one on a charge of aggravated assault of a public servant.
Shortly after, Quanell X and seven armed New Black Panthers marched in the street near the prison. The standoff ended peacefully, but the tension remained.
After the announcement of the parole board’s vote Thursday, Graham supporters began to shout “Murderer.” Some even wept and hugged each other.
Among the protesters was Deidra Hawkins, Graham’s 19-year-old daughter, who is pregnant with her second child, Graham’s third grandchild. She thanked her father’s supporters and urged the crowd, “Don’t stop protesting because he’s gone.”
Muhammad echoed other speakers when he said Graham had succeeded in making a significant impact on the debate over the death penalty. He told the crowd to think of the day as a celebration for Graham and not a funeral.
“His life is not in vain. Through his life he has called the whole world to look at Texas. He represents everything we’ve marched for, chanted for, lost our jobs for and got arrested for,” Muhammad told about 60 Houston protesters as the group prepared to board a bus for Huntsville.
“All of it has come down to this little boy born in Fifth Ward, Texas. The little high school dropout. Through all of this, our brother has evolved into a freedom fighter.”
It was Graham’s eighth execution date, according to prison officials. He was the 23rd inmate executed this year in Texas.
“We will prevail,” Graham said before his death. “Keep marching. Black power. Keep marching. Black power. They are killing me tonight. They are murdering me tonight.”
Then he went silent, having died with one eye closed and one eye slightly open.
Graham had always said he would not go to the death chamber easily and he kept his promise.
Wednesday night, Graham struggled briefly with five prison guards at the Terrell Unit in Livingston when his visitation period ended at 5 p.m. Graham was surprised when officials began shackling his wrists, ankles and waist to move him to the death house in Huntsville.
Graham thought he would be returning to his cell on death row in Livingston.
“We were attempting to put that apparatus on him yesterday,” said prison spokesman Larry Fitzgerald. “But as soon as we unshackled his hands to move them from the back to the front that’s when he started to struggle.”
Fitzgerald said five officers subdued Graham.
“The struggle was very short-lived. It probably was only a minute or so,” Fitzgerald said. “… We were able to put the restraints on him. He was then carried to the van.”
Fitzgerald said Graham was checked immediately after the incident and was not injured. Graham did not say anything during the struggle or on the drive to Huntsville.
Fitzgerald said Graham’s mood had been “quiet” since the move.
He refused every meal since breakfast Wednesday, requesting only coffee. He did not request a last meal.
“He does not want to eat in fact on the table of those who would kill him,” said Jackson, who visited with Graham on Thursday and witnessed the execution.
Because Graham resisted the move his visitations were limited Thursday. In the morning he saw family, spiritual advisers and a lawyer.