Gary Graham's lawyer

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Jun 22 08:44:50 MDT 2000

(This is from a NY Times article by Raymond Bonner and Sara Rimer, dated
June 11, that deals with the incompetence of Gary Graham's (aka Shaka
Sankofa) court-appointed lawyer. Bonner is a fiercely courageous journalist
who was removed from his post in Central America in the 1980s by editor
A.M. Rosenthal, who was responding to State Department complaints about
Bonner's alleged leftwing sympathies. One can only draw the conclusion from
reading this article that Graham has not received competent legal defense.
Moreover, those lacking his high-profile might have already been murdered
by the state already. Thus it becomes even more urgent to lend one's voice
to his defense. Appeal to Governor George W. Bush Jr. to stop the
execution. phone: 512-463-2000 or fax: 512-463-1849.)


On death row at the Terrell unit of the Texas state prison in Livingston,
an hour's drive north of here, inmates and death penalty lawyers refer
sardonically to a place they call the Mock Wing. This metaphorical prison
enclave has housed at least a dozen death row inmates, some already
executed, others awaiting their final punishment, who shared the same
lawyer, Ronald G. Mock.

Mr. Mock, who was appointed by Harris County judges to represent indigent
defendants in capital cases, says he believes he has had more clients
sentenced to death than any lawyer in the country. One of those clients,
Robert Anthony Carter, 34, was executed on May 31. On June 22, another
client, Gary Graham, 36, is scheduled to die by lethal injection after a
19-year court battle.

In large part because Mr. Graham's conviction turned on a single eyewitness
who saw him only fleetingly and at night, his new lawyers are insisting
that he is innocent and are pressing for a postponement of his execution
and for a new trial. In earlier pleadings, they also raised questions about
Mr. Mock's competency as trial counsel. . .

Mr. Mock, who boasted in an interview this week that he had flunked
criminal law at Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of
Law, called no witnesses during the guilt phase of Mr. Graham's trial,
which lasted two days. He did not challenge before the jury the testimony
of the single eyewitness who sealed Mr. Graham's guilty verdict, although
there were other witnesses who could have provided conflicting testimony.
He called only two witnesses during the penalty phase, when his job was to
persuade the jury to spare his client's life.

Mr. Mock, who had only three years of legal experience when he took on Mr.
Graham's defense, acknowledged in the interview that he did almost no
investigation of the case. He knew in his gut, he said, that none of the
witnesses could help his client. Mr. Mock's investigator, Mervyn West, as
well as his co-counsel, Chester L. Thornton, both say Mr. Mock had made it
clear that he assumed Mr. Graham was guilty, an assertion Mr. Mock disputes.

Mr. Thornton said Mr. Graham's fate had haunted him for 19 years. It was
his first and last capital case. "I have serious questions whether we
presented a fair and adequate defense," he said.

Mr. Mock said that five of his clients on death row have petitions pending
in court that accuse him of ineffectiveness of counsel. The Texas Bar
Association has reprimanded him several times for professional misconduct.
"I have a permanent parking spot at the grievance committee," Mr. Mock said.

In the 1980's, Mr. Mock, who drives a Rolls-Royce and a Harley-Davidson,
was one of the top-earning court-appointed lawyers on death cases here,
making by his estimation $120,000 to $130,000 a year. Mr. Mock said he
stopped handling capital cases 10 years ago because there was not enough
money in them. . .

With his easy manner and jokes, Mr. Mock became a favorite of a handful of
Harris County judges, some of whom were impressed by the strong rapport he
established with clients. Another reason judges appointed Mr. Mock, Mr.
Thornton and other lawyers said, was that Mr. Mock is black, and with few
African-American lawyers practicing criminal defense law in Houston in the
1980's, judges were interested in promoting what diversity they could.

Richard Trevathan, who was the judge in the Graham case and is now in
private practice, said, "I always thought Ron Mock was a good lawyer."

But a review of Mr. Mock's legal career here shows that he was jailed
during jury selection in one capital murder trial for failing to file court
papers in another case on time for a condemned client's appeal. A federal
judge who later reviewed the case during which Mr. Mock was jailed wrote
that his confidence in the verdict was "completely undermined" because of
Mr. Mock's performance. Mr. Mock's client, Anthony Ray Westley, 36, was
executed in 1997.

Several clients filed complaints against Mr. Mock, with one claiming that
he smelled alcohol on Mr. Mock's breath during their discussions. Mr. Mock
at one time owned 11 bars, including Buster's Drinkery, a popular downtown
hangout for judges and lawyers.

"I drank a lot of whiskey," Mr. Mock said, talking in his office in
Houston, where the walls are decorated with portraits of the Rev. Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. "I drank whiskey with judges. I drank
whiskey in the best bars. But it never affected my ability. It never
affected my performance."


Shortly after his arrest, a Harris County judge appointed Mr. Mock as the
lead lawyer in his capital case. Mr. Thornton, who knew Mr. Graham and had
represented him on some juvenile offenses, was appointed his co-counsel.

Mr. West, a former police officer, was brought in as the investigator.

While defense investigators in capital cases routinely spend months
searching for any shred of evidence that might save their client's life,
Mr. West said in an interview this week that he wrapped up his work on the
Graham case in less than a week. "I had a couple of quick talks with
eyewitnesses and went over the police report," he said.

Mr. Mock said Mr. Graham was unable to tell him where he had been on the
night of the murder. "His position was that he was on a drug and alcohol
binge, and didn't remember where he was," Mr. Mock said. During the trial,
two witnesses went to the courtroom to tell Mr. Mock that they wanted to
testify that they were with Mr. Graham the night of the murder. Mr. Mock
said this week that he was too busy to talk to them, but that he knew they
could not have helped his client. This contradicts an earlier affidavit,
used by the state to deny Mr. Graham a new trial, in which Mr. Mock denied
knowing of these witnesses.

At least two witnesses who might have helped Mr. Graham were named in the
police report. Sherian Etuk, a child protective services worker, and Ronald
Hubbard, a postal worker, were working at the Safeway at the time of the
murder, and both said they saw the killer.

Ms. Etuk and Mr. Hubbard, whose affidavits are included in Mr. Graham's
clemency petition, both said in interviews this week that Mr. Graham was
not the man they saw. Mr. Graham is just under 5 feet, 10 inches tall. Both
Mr. Hubbard and Ms. Etuk said that the man they saw was under 5-foot-5.

Ms. Wilson, the assistant district attorney, said Ms. Etuk and Mr. Hubbard
were sincere but mistaken.

Mr. Mock said this week that he did not bother to interview the other
eyewitnesses because if he had put them on the stand, it would have allowed
the prosecution to tell the jury about Mr. Graham's other crimes. But Ms.
Wilson said that Mr. Mock was wrong about the law, that such testimony
would not have given the prosecution that opening.

No forensics evidence connected Mr. Graham to the murder, and the police
report contained ballistics evidence showing that the .22-caliber revolver
with which Mr. Graham was arrested could not have been the same .22-caliber
gun that killed Mr. Lambert.

The case came down to one eyewitness, Bernadine Skillern, a former school
secretary who has never wavered in her identification of Mr. Graham over
the years. "She was stronger than an acre of garlic," Mr. Mock said this
week, repeating an assertion he has made many times. He did not attack Ms.
Skillern's identification before the jury, and in his closing arguments he
said she deserved a standing ovation for her bravery in testifying.

"He put on no defense," said Jack B. Zimmermann, who is working with
Richard H. Burr on Mr. Graham's case before the board of pardons and
parole. "If he didn't attack the mistaken identification, there was nothing
for the jury to do but come back with a finding of guilt."

The United States Supreme Court warned in a 1967 case against "the vagaries
of eyewitness identification," arguing that "the annals of criminal law are
rife with instances of mistaken identification."

Because Mr. Mock had known of the eyewitnesses and the ballistics report,
legal technicalities prevented the lawyers who followed him from getting a
hearing on that evidence.

"Gary Graham's case lies on the fault line of the Texas death penalty
system," Mr. Burr said. "He had abysmal trial counsel, who failed to
present stark evidence of his innocence based on exonerating eyewitnesses
and forensics evidence. Thereafter, when this evidence was discovered, the
courts all decided that this evidence was presented too late to be heard."

Louis Proyect

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