Death Penalty Case Looms for Bush

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - The Reverend Jesse Jackson Tuesday met with Gary Graham, the nation's most-talked-about death row inmate, and he insisted that both presidential candidates must do or say something to spare Graham's life: "While Mr Bush must act, Mr Gore must not be silent," Jackson told reporters.

Both George W. Bush and Al Gore support capital punishment as a crime deterrent, but the furor surrounding Graham's imminent execution falls squarely on Bush. As governor of Texas, he has been faced with life-or-death decisions many times before.

Gore, on the other hand, has never been in a position to deal directly with the death penalty issue.

Since Bush took office in 1995, 134 people have been put to death in Texas, which leads the nation in executions. Only once has Bush granted a reprieve in a death row case, and that happened this month.

Bush insists he will treat the Graham case on its merits, as he has done in all the other cases. "I'm upholding the law and I'm standing on principle," he told reporters this week. "I harbor no ill will. I understand this is a very emotional issue for people. It's an issue where fine people can disagree with me and I understand that."

Gary Graham is scheduled to be executed on Thursday for killing a man during a robbery outside a Houston supermarket in 1981. His conviction stems from the testimony of one eyewitness who picked Graham out of a police lineup.

That woman insists she picked the right man, but two other witnesses - never asked to testify at Graham's trial - say Graham is not the man they saw that night.

Three jurors who voted to convict Graham and give him the death penalty now say they'd like him to have a new trial. They recently signed affidavits saying their verdict would have been different if they had heard all the available evidence when Graham went to trial in 1981.

On the campaign trail, pressure is building for George W. Bush to grant Graham a reprieve or a conditional pardon, something he can do only if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles recommends it.

Two protesters posing as Bush supporters disrupted a fundraiser in Palo Alto, California Tuesday night, shouting "Don't execute an innocent man!"

"The great thing about America is that people are able to express themselves," Bush said to applause as security guards hustled the protestors away.

Scores of chanting demonstrators also gathered outside his hotel in Palo Alto demanding that he postpone Graham's execution: "Bush says death row, we say hell, no!" they yelled.

Even some celebrities are getting into the act. Bianca Jagger, who serves as a director of Amnesty International USA, went to Texas Monday to urge a halt to Graham's execution.

"It would serious miscarriage of justice if the state executes Gary Graham, an innocent man," she said.

Regardless of differing opinions on the death penalty, Graham is not innocent. He was linked to 22 crimes during a one-week period in 1981 - a week that began with the murder for which he now sits on death row.

Some of his victims gathered at a news conference this week, where they insisted that Gov. Bush allow Graham's execution to proceed.

"If our courts, our legal system, and all these protesters, if they let a guy like Gary Graham out of prison, they might as well just open up the floodgates and let everybody out," said David Spiers, who was shot and seriously injured by Graham during a robbery.

Spiers spoke a news conference organized by the victims' advocacy group Justice for All.

"I'm so sick of this whole case," said Rick Sanford, another man robbed by Graham during the week-long crime spree in 1981. "For 19 years, making him out for some kind of unjustly, unfairly convicted murderer. This man is one of the worst criminals in Harris County history," he said.

Graham is also accused of robbing and raping a woman who refused his offer of help at a gas station. He pleaded guilty to ten aggravated robberies, but he denies murdering anyone.

Because Graham already received a temporary reprieve from Bush's predecessor, the governor can spare his life only if the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles gives him that option.

The 18-member parole board, whose members Bush appointed, will vote privately on Graham's clemency petition Thursday.

See Earlier Story:
Under Bush, Texas Executions Rose Less Than US Average (15 June 2000)