Friday, August 3, 2012

Harrison Graham: The Corpse Collector

City of Brotherly Love
The Harrison Graham Story

Between 1985 and 1989, investigators in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were called into three separate cases of serial murder. That was a lot for one city, but the 1980s had seen an increase in serial murders across the country, especially those that involved uniquely gruesome details. From Night Stalker Richard Ramirez, with his penchant for Satanism, to Robert Berdella's torture of imprisoned men, the 1980s seemed to inspire killers to realize their worst fantasies.
Someone dubbed the Frankford Slasher stabbed seven people to death in a Philadelphia neighborhood, even as the police learned from an escaping victim about Gary Heidnik, who was holding female prisoners in the basement of his house on North Marshall Street. One had died from hanging in chains and one had been killed. The police found three more intended victims in the house, chained up and starving. Heidnik had used them as sex slaves and was planning to add more. After his arrest, he admitted to eating pieces of one victim and feeding some to his captives.
Then Leonard Christopher, a black man, was arrested and convicted of the Frankford-area murders, even as an eighth woman was similarly murdered, so his conviction became controversial. One set of witnesses had seen a white man with some of the victims, but others stood by their identification of Christopher: He had worked in the fish market where the seventh woman was found dead, had many inconsistencies in his story, was seen with the victim and with a knife, and had spots of blood on his clothing.

Map of Philadelphia with 1631 N. 19th Street indicator
Map of Philadelphia with 1631 N. 19th Street indicator
Also, on a sweltering August day in 1987, the police were called to a two-room apartment in a run-down brick rowhouse in north Philadelphia. The tenant of four years, a black man named Harrison 'Marty' Graham, who liked to talk like the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street, had been evicted at noon that day due to a terrible odor emanating from his apartment. Before leaving, he nailed the door shut to one of the rooms and said he would be back for the rest of his stuff. Landlord Nathanial Choice had sent his son and nephew to take care of this business, and when they found their access thwarted, they peeked through the keyhole. That's when they called the police.

What a Man Can Stand


Satellite photo of 1631 N. 19th Street in Philadelphia.
Satellite photo of 1631 N. 19th Street in Philadelphia.
It was August 9, a Sunday afternoon that threatened to saturate the already humid air with a shower. An officer familiar with the area from numerous drug busts, arrived at 1631 North 19th Street, near Cecil B. Moore Avenue, where many buildings along that block were boarded up and abandoned. Just that week, the police had arrested someone for dealing in R&Ts Ritalin and Talwin, a combination of a stimulant and a painkiller that offered a cheap high. Although the building at 1631 looked deserted, according to reporters for the Philadelphia Daily News, with broken windows and a missing front door, families did live in several apartments.
Officer Pete Scallatino walked up to the third floor. He could smell the odor of death even before he entered the place, so he assumed he'd find a dead body. He walked into the first room of the apartment and saw waist-high piles of trash everywhere. On a kitchen wall was the drawing of a naked woman, with aggressive expletives scrawled next to it and a smear that looked like dried blood left by the dragging of two fingers in parallel. Clearly, someone had once had a dog or two in here, as hardened excrement on the floor contributed to the stench.
The men who'd called him beckoned to the keyhole, so he bent down near a door that had "Marty" scrawled across it to have a look. He saw a black woman's naked legs. She lay too still, so he assumed that this was the source of the offensive stench. Officer Scallatino knocked and announced himself but the figure did not move. Charles Johnson, an investigator with the Medical Examiner's Office, joined him. His black van outside quickly drew the attention of neighbors, who gathered together to guess about what was happening inside.
Scallatino and Johnson pried open the door to get into the second room. The odor nearly overwhelmed them, so they donned gauze masks. They found that this room, too, was piled high with trash, but not so much that they couldn't see the victim: The nude female they'd spotted through the keyhole was indeed deceased. She lay on a mattress, piled two high on the floor, next to a television set. She'd been dead for some time, as she was discolored and bloated, her limbs askew from the way her body was decomposing. But next to the mattress, on the floor, was another female corpse, also bloated. She was wearing a denim miniskirt and a light-colored shirt with the words, "Pour Toi," and a red rose printed on it.

Cynthia Brooks
Cynthia Brooks
The men put up their yellow crime scene tape around the building and in the hallway, then called for backup. There was no electricity and most of the windows had been boarded up, so in the dark room, they'd need extra lights. While drug overdoses were common in this area, and they could have simply died in the building and been dumped here, Scallatino called in homicide detective, James Hansen, who had just led the Heidnik investigation. Ambiguous scenes such as this required him to assume murder first.

Grim Discovery

It wasn't that unusual to find homeless people crawling into these places, or even the elderly, who had no one to care for them, finally just giving up the ghost and hoping that someone would take care of their remains. Still, within the filth and trash, roaches and fleas, syringes and spoons, and glass jars filled with yellow liquid, it seemed as though there had to be more to this overpowering stench than a dead body. Old newspapers and magazines were piled up, along with mattresses and smelly blankets, and there was moldy dog feces in many places. Flies alighted everywhere, on peeling walls, warped ceilings, and pieces of rotting garbage.
No one was eager to look, but that was their job in that gruesome place. Then, at around 3:45 p.m., they turned up yet a third set of remains, wrapped in two sheets and buried under rags and other debris that had been beneath the second body. What they had this time was nearly skeletal, but the remains had shreds of clothing that might assist in identification. As they made room for this one to be photographed and removed, they started to toss broken pieces of furniture and piles of clothing through the window to the lawn outside. Less than two hours later, the searchers turned up a fourth set of mummified remains, also wrapped in sheets and stuffed under a pile of trash. Detective Hansen said to reporters that "this could be the first time, to my knowledge, that we've found four bodies of suspicious death in the same house."
Higher-ranking officers were called. This was obviously going to be a long night.

Charnel House

The place was small each room was 10 by 12 feet but it contained a lot of trash. The forensics team searched through the debris with care. Johnson had sent for the medical examiner, who did not usually come to routine death scenes, but this one was unfolding in a way that set it apart from the norm.
The fifth body was found around 5:30, pulled out of another area of debris, but the peculiar detail about this one was that he or she (they couldn't tell) had been sandwiched between two mattresses and clearly had been there a long time. The searchers wondered if the evicted tenant had actually slept on the top mattress with the victim underneath.
Thunder cracked as the team went through the debris. For the next several hours, the investigators brought in more lights and kept going through the disgusting contents of the rooms. It appeared as though the tenant had resided in one room and had kept the adjoining room as his own private mausoleum. In the front room, it seemed that he'd been preparing to erect a new wall. The place was small each room about 10 by 12 feet but the search was painstaking. Another two hours went by before the sixth body was located, crammed inside a tiny 6-inch-deep closet, sitting up, wrapped in a sheet and tied with white electrical cord.

Search for More Bodies

Word spread quickly around the neighborhood as people asked about the crime scene tape: They'd found bodies in there, "eight or nine of them." People came out of their houses, despite the light rain, to watch as more official vehicles pulled up, empty body bags went in and full ones were carried out by men in masks.
"The curious crowded into the narrow block of North 19th Street in the steaming August heat to watch the grim parade of body bags," wrote Joseph Grace and John Morrison for the Philadelphia Daily News. "One after another, less than an hour apart, six bodies were removed from the debris-strewn apartment." Off they went to the morgue for examination. There was little doubt that this was going to be yet one more case of serial murder.
Dusk was settling in, so the police used high-powered searchlights to go through the rest of the building, just in case there were more bodies strewn about in other abandoned rooms. Eventually they called off the search but resumed again at dawn the next day. On the roof, they discovered a moldering canvas bag under a dirty mattress that contained a leg and some foot bones. Once again, the ME came to have a look.
While one team made preparations to dig up the backyard (where Graham reportedly had been seen digging at various times) and the empty lot across the street, another went to locate the missing tenant. What he'd have to say about all of this was anyone's guess.

Marty


Harrison Graham
Harrison Graham
Graham's photo, a fuzzy rendition, was circulated citywide to police districts, to the highway patrol, and to special units. It was also placed in the next day's newspaper in the hope that someone would spot him and alert them. But patrol officers began making rounds and asking questions.
His name was Harrison Graham, but people knew him as Marty. He'd lived in the building for more than four years. Born on October 9, 1958, the eldest of five children, he was nearing 29. He was about six feet tall with a medium brown complexion and average build, but large brawny shoulders and big hands. Lots of people knew him because he worked as a handyman around the neighborhood, and they considered him quiet and friendly. A high school dropout, he was known as a drug user and dealer, offering R&Ts and providing a "shooting gallery" in his apartment for people who wanted to inject the combination drug to get high.
Detectives were told about Marty's composition notebooks, which a neighbor had seen in the apartment, that allegedly featured crude sketches of naked women and dismembered body parts, including breasts, feet, heads, and male genitalia. This same acquaintance had seen Marty dangle a woman named Renee out his window. Renee had screamed and he'd pulled her back in. An arrest warrant was issued, charging him, at the very least, with several counts of abuse of a corpse.
He was known to frequent three general areas: his building, 8th Street by Erie Avenue, and 56th and Spruce. Here, he had either friends or family. People who knew him offered police tips on where he'd been seen since his eviction, but those who followed up these leads were unable to apprehend him.

History of Problems

Marty's mother, Lillian Graham Jeter, 45, was located, but she said that she'd asked him to leave because of his drug habit. She did provide one bit of information: He'd told her several months earlier that his girlfriend Mary was pregnant. Then on July 4, he said that the baby had died. Another woman, Robin DeShazor, had lived with Graham in her home a few years earlier. She, too, was a drug addict, and they'd gone together to the third-floor apartment on North 19th Street. Lillian added that Marty had been diagnosed with a mental disorder when he was twelve and had been hospitalized for two years. He was also classified as learning-disabled and had lived in a foster home for a while.
The men who had evicted Marty were questioned as well. "He didn't say nothin' when I told him to leave," remarked one of them, although he admitted that initially Graham would not let them inside. "I heard him moving things around in there. I head some banging noises, like hammering." When he left, Graham took a water bottle, clothing and a few bags. He was wearing white pants, a striped jacket, and a cap, and he had his raggedy blue Cookie Monster.
Investigators compiled a profile. They learned was that Graham often took long walks and played basketball with local kids. He liked to entertain them with his Cookie Monster. Other neighbors said he was a loner, but when he got drunk, he'd act a "little crazy," doing things like dance in the streets. No one interviewed immediately after the discovery reported aggression on his part, but eventually several women said that's he'd tried to rape them or hit them on the head. A drug user, who wanted to remain anonymous, told reporters that a person could get any kind of drugs in Marty's apartment. She had assumed that the foul odor in there was due to toilets not working and mounds of trash lying around. The landlord reported that he always paid his $90 per month rent, and that his income of $300 a month came from Social Security disability funds.
Whoever Marty was, he remained a mystery for the time being as he continued to elude the police.

The Morgue

Robert L. Catherman was the acting Medical Examiner who had gone to North 19th Street to view the remains. News media had crowded near him to hear his comments, but he'd merely said that they knew nothing at the moment about the identity of the victims. They didn't even know whether some were male or female.
In the morgue, the corpses were put through painstaking procedures to try to identify them and determine the cause and manner of death. It was believed that the first two found, both black females, had been dead just two or three days, but due to the intense summer heat, they'd decomposed quickly. Both were in their late twenties or early thirties. One had been nude, the other partially clothed, a sweater pulled up over her head. There was no obvious sign of violence, such as a bullet or bludgeoning.
The other bodies would take more work. They were not identifiable, even for race or sex. An anthropologist would need to assist by reading the bone structure. It could be difficult, they knew, to determine a cause of death as well, although two days later, thanks to a broken hyoid bone, they managed to determine that the fourth victim found had been strangled.
By August 11, it was clear that the two most recent deaths had been murder by strangulation. That made three. Then the leg and foot bones from the canvas bag were also identified as being from a female. Autopsies on two more of the remains, what little could be done, confirmed that they had been black women in their twenties, but determining the cause of death was impossible. The ME adjusted the time of death on the first two as having occurred within the past ten days, rather than two or three.
A woman had come to the scene after hearing about the house of horrors on television, because a friend of hers who lived in the building had been missing for several months: She was 30 years old, and her name was Sandra Garvin. This acquaintance believed that Sandra could be among the dead. Within a day of the discovery, three more women were suggested as potential victims. All had known Graham and all were missing. One woman, who'd lived with Graham, had not been seen for two and a half years. A man recognized the clothing from the second victim and believed that she was his wife.

Sandra Garvin
Sandra Garvin
In the meantime, the police continued to look for the man who could clear up some of the mystery.

Investigation

The building on North 19th Street was officially condemned for several code violations and those few tenants who were still there were ordered to leave. They were given temporary shelter by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Thanks to the picture in the newspapers and to neighbors who knew that the police were searching for Graham, numerous sightings were reported. On August 11, he'd been seen on Broad Street, on a SEPTA bus, at a soup kitchen, and at a car wash. The police arrived too late in each instance to arrest him. One person who saw him getting a meal at the Cathedral of Deliverance Evangelistic Church described him as having a "glassy-eyed stare." He was carrying a bucket full of rags, and was dressed in white pants, a striped jacket, and a black cap. The police came in only moments later, showing his picture, but were still unable to catch him.
In the meantime, the crime scene team going through the waist-high debris in the apartment had found items that they believed might assist in victim identification. Three earrings and a ring were retrieved. Two earrings one heart-shaped had been next to mummified remains of the third victim, and the ring and third earring had come off another set of remains. The ring was crudely made and the earring had a grid design. The newspapers printed this information to get relatives to identify the victims. Two women, reported missing, had been found alive, so they were removed from the list of potential victims and onto the list of potential witnesses. One of them had lived with Graham, without mishap.

Identifying the Victims


Robin DeShazor
Robin DeShazor
Another neighbor came forward to tell the police that she'd seen Graham beat Robin DeShazor, a dire warning that DeShazor could be among the dead. Local forensic dentist Haskell Askins came into the case to assist with identification via dental records. "We're looking for uniqueness that could be found in a single tooth," he told Philadelphia Inquirer reporters, "or a fragment of a tooth." He would also need to have the actual dental records of a suspected victim for comparison purposes, which meant that relatives who feared that a loved one was among the carnage had to produce those records. At the very least, he said, he could give an age estimate. Only one of the six full sets of remains recovered had not had dental work done.
The digging around the building did produce bones, but they turned out to be from dogs, and reports indicated that Graham had once owned three different dogs and had buried them after they'd died. No more human bodies or parts were recovered, although several blackened pieces of recovered bone were sent for analysis.
Graham's family put out an appeal for him to turn himself in. They did not believe that he had killed the women. One younger brother told reporters, "Marty was afraid to go to our grandmother's funeral. He stayed outside." He was certain that Graham could not have been sleeping in the same room with corpses.
On August 15, six days after the initial discovery, there was another grisly find.
 

Surrender

In the basement of a building three doors down from Graham's (and owned by a relative of the man who owned Graham's building), a human torso and skull, wrapped in a brown blanket and tied with an electrical cord, were found beneath debris. This was similar to the way the body had been stored in Graham's closet, but this one had been partially buried under a mound of coal ashes. The task was now to determine if they were parts of the same victim as the leg bones or whether this was yet an eight unidentified person.
The ME's office stated that six of the victims had been black females and one had been identified: Mary Jeter Mathis, 36, the mother of five children. While DNA analysis had been used in several forensic contexts that same year, it was not yet a common method for victim identification.

The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office
Just as investigators were working on that project, the suspect, now the target of an intense manhunt, surrendered. On August 17, Marty Graham stood waiting on a North Philadelphia street corner, while his mother directed the police there. He'd asked her to bring him some food, she said, and she had gone to him and persuaded him to surrender. The police took him in for questioning, and by evening had charged him with seven counts of murder and seven counts of abuse of a corpse. Because his clothing was stained, they obtained warrants to have his pants and jacket tested.

Mary Jeter Mathis
Mary Jeter Mathis
According to Lillian Graham, her son claimed that the bodies had been in the building when he'd moved in and he had not killed anyone. But in custody, under interrogation, he eventually confessed. At first he said he only killed two, but then he admitted that he'd strangled all seven female victims while under the influence of drugs. He was full of remorse and told police, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, that he wanted to straighten out his life. He offered the names of five of the victims.

Confession


Cynthia Brooks
Cynthia Brooks
Graham's former girlfriend, Robin DeShazor, was among them. Another was Cynthia Brooks, 28, and the identified victim, Mary Jeters. Graham also indicated that he'd strangled Barbara Mahoney, 22, and Patricia Franklin, 24. Some he had lived with, and others he had lured there with the promise of drugs. He hadn't known the names of two victims whom he'd encountered in the streets (one was Sandra Garvin, 33). His MO had been to get them high with drugs and alcohol and then strangle them while having consensual sex. Afterward, he'd fall asleep and wake up to find the woman next to him, dead. It always surprised him.

Barbara Mahoney
Barbara Mahoney
He indicated that they'd all been killed that year, beginning in January, although this would come into question. "It was just something that started to happen," he commented, and once he started, he couldn't stop. The first time, with DeShazor, he hadn't known what to do with the body, so he'd left it in the apartment. When he brought another woman up, he hid DeShazor's corpse by shoving it out onto a roof reachable from his back window. He'd actually told another live-in girlfriend about it some time later, and she'd seen it. She had threatened to tell the police if he did not move it, so he'd taken the head and torso to another building, but had left some of the remains behind in a bag. While the body had been there, he told officers, birds had come pecking, which had bothered him a bit. But he hadn't minded the maggots.
 

Articulate, Talented, Religious

During breaks, Graham would sketch the faces of women. The detectives were surprised to find that Graham was articulate, was a talented artist, and was not, as they'd assumed, illiterate. He apparently read the Bible avidly.
In the end, the detectives had Graham's 10-page statement, which included details about each murder, and his feelings about what he'd done. He insisted many times that he hadn't meant to kill anyone, and to him, the deaths were accidental. They were due to his sexual technique: He'd held them around the neck and had probably pressed too hard.
Graham was arraigned, dressed in pajamas and slippers, and held without bail while a preliminary hearing was set. At issue was his background of mental illness, which also raised questions about his competency to have waived his right to a lawyer and to have confessed. He received a public defender, Joel S. Moldovsky, and went into solitary confinement at the city detention center. The two sides squared off in preparation for battle in court. Moldovksy, who insisted that Graham should have been given a public defender right away, learned that he'd been handcuffed to a chair for hours as he was interrogated, and that a public defender had been available in the building. Apparently Graham hadn't realized he could have asked for that person's assistance. When this procedure was criticized in the press by the city's chief public defender, Benjamin J. Lerner, Detective Hansen responded that Graham's mother had been present throughout the questioning.

Joel S. Moldovsky
Joel S. Moldovsky
Around this time, the police teams finished their investigation and placed tin sheets over the open doorways and broken windows of the empty building. They also sealed Graham's former apartment, now clear of trash.
There would be no more gruesome discoveries, but the legal battle was now heating up. The DA needed witnesses, and they soon arrived.

Mental State

On August 25, the Daily News published an anonymous account by a former lover of Harrison Graham, who said that in January of 1986, Graham had told her that he'd "offed" another girlfriend and tossed her out the window. She'd waited one day until he'd gone out and then went to the back window. On the roof below was an old, weathered mattress. She went out, lifted it, and found a skeleton.
She hadn't believed his story about murder before, but now she did. Even with this discovery, she stayed with him. Eventually, she informed the police, and then moved in with her mother. But the police never located the body.
When she learned about the bodies found in the apartment, she had counted herself lucky. "I get nightmares and I can't sleep," she told reporters. "It's like his hands are around my throat and the life's going out of me."
Eventually she would lose her anonymity, presenting her story in court.
At his six-hour hearing on August 27, Graham reportedly rocked back and forth as a detective read parts of his gruesome statement. According to one excerpt, to a visitor to his apartment he'd explained away the maggots as "furball bugs." To ignore the birds eating a body outside his window, he'd "had to stay high all the time." When the police finally came for him, he hadn't known what to do. The corpses of his most recent murders were in the front room, so he'd tossed them into the second room, boarded it up, and fled.
Clearly, the question of his competency to go to trial was at stake, and Joel Moldovsky offered the testimony of two psychiatrists. Dr. Robert Stanton indicated that Graham had an IQ of 63, below the level considered mentally competent, and that Graham was a serious substance abuser of alcohol and drugs and was thus unable to cooperate in his own defense. He suffered from auditory hallucinations and blackouts, and was psychotic, with chronic paranoid features. Psychologist Albert Levitt said that Graham was unable to read, write, or even tell time. He was highly distractible.
But Dr. Robert Sardoff, hired by the DA's office, declared that Graham had no significant mental impediment to assisting with his attorney. "He was able to respond to my questions," Sadoff told a reporter, "he was able to give police a statement; it was coherent, it was logical." Judge Edward Mekel declared Graham competent to be prosecuted.

Prelude to Insanity Defense

Four days later, Robin DeShazor's remains, found partly in a bag and partly in a basement, were formally identified through medical and dental records. She had indeed been the first one to die, although in his confused state, Graham had described killing others before her. The time and cause of death of her death could not be determined.
Months later, on October 6, as reported in local papers, Graham pleaded not guilty to the charges against him. Judge Charles Durham asked him if he understood the proceedings, and Graham just said, "Nope." He banged his fingers on the bar, mumbled to himself and swayed on his feet. He also claimed he didn't know where he was. His attorney reiterated that Graham was not competent to continue. Graham just said he wanted to go home.
"Do you know why you're here?" Durham asked.
"I have no idea."
"Can you understand?"
"Nope."
The DA remarked that Graham was malingering. The judge entered the pleas, denying a request from Moldovsky for a competency hearing on the spot, as well as his request to drop the murder charges due to an inability to determine the cause of death. Moldovsky said he would get another psychiatric report.
In January, a neurological report indicated that Graham was not suffering from organic brain damage. Nevertheless, Moldovksy prepared for an insanity defense, scheduled for January 19, 1988.

Who Is She?


Frank Bender
Frank Bender
The single unidentified victim, with the morgue tag #3760, was placed into the hands of forensic sculptor Frank Bender, whose studio was on Philadelphia's South Street. Since 1976, he'd worked with law enforcement to help with victim identification and the age progression of fugitives. He'd gotten his start in this field after he was invited to tour the morgue to better learn about human anatomy. While there, he saw a decomposing corpse that had not yet been identified. She only had a number: 5233. The woman had been shot three times in the head and dumped near the airport. The possibility of identifying her seemed hopeless, but Bender said he believed that he knew what she looked like. He made a sculpture from her skull and got such a good likeness that 5233 eventually got a name, which led to her killer, who was convicted. It wasn't long before he was invited into more forensic cases by the local and state police, and even the U.S. Marshals. So it was no surprise that he'd be asked to assist with the identification of this victim of Graham's the third one found.
She had been a tall, thin black woman, said the anthropologist, about 5'9", between 20 and 30, with a narrow skull. She was found nearly skeletonized beneath the decomposing corpse of another woman. At the time of her demise, she'd been wearing khaki slacks and two long-sleeved shirts, and the two earrings found next to her were presumed to be hers.
Bender completely defleshed the skull and placed tiny rubber posts on it to guide him in adding about five pounds of brown clay for the right tissue depth. He then put fake eyeballs into the sockets. The elongated face made this victim more of an individual with a unique appearance - a pointed chin and an asymmetrical nose aperture. Adding a hairstyle that he believed was right for her, Bender had photographs taken for the newspapers. Then authorities waited and hoped that someone would recognize her and come forward.

Skull (left); Bender's sculpture (right)
Skull (left); Bender's sculpture (right)
An older couple reported that their daughter had been missing for six months. They knew that she'd been an acquaintance of Graham's and the description they gave was a match. The ME's investigator got the young woman's medical records to compare against the remains. He also showed the family photographs of the completed bust, but they weren't sure. Yet others who had known the missing woman believed that the sculpture resembled her, and they recalled the earrings that she'd worn that were just like those found next to the corpse. A past chest x-ray that showed an odd characteristic of one rib finally clinched it on January 26, 1988. She was Valerie Jamison, 25, the mother of two sons, and she'd disappeared in April the year before.

Valerie Jamison
Valerie Jamison
With the victims identified and their association with Graham established, it was time to go to trial.

Hearings


Harrison Graham
Harrison Graham
On January 28, the pre-trial hearings began. Graham was ruled competent to stand trial, based on the reports of five court-appointed experts. They said that during his evaluation sessions, he'd been calm, friendly, and alert. He did show evidence of personality disorders, but he understood the legal proceedings well enough to participate. He seemed to understand that he potentially faced the death penalty, but believed that God was watching over him "and lets me know he still loves me." (He went to court with rosary beads in his belt.) Even the defense attorney's psychologist, who had initially found him incompetent, had changed his opinion. While he was probably mildly retarded, he said, he functioned at a high intellectual level. Two of the experts indicated that Graham had been faking his disorganized state during his earlier hearing. Now he was lucid and clear, thanks largely to anti-psychotic medication.
In early February, there was a two-hour hearing to determine which part of the prosecutor's evidence would be admitted. More than 100 gruesome photographs of the apartment were entered as exhibits. When Graham saw them he waved them off as the deeds of "a very sick" person, and then chuckled, although he added that it hurt his stomach to see them. Judge Robert Latrone ordered Moldovsky to keep him quiet or "he may bury himself just by opening his big mouth."
Charles Johnson, the ME's investigator, offered testimony about his experiences during the investigation and he described how he'd found each of the seven bodies. He posted the photographs as slides on poster boards and the judge came down from the bench to examine each one.
Moldovsky had requested a closed hearing, but attorneys for the newspapers protested, so he withdrew the motion. Journalists from the Daily News and the Inquirer were in attendance, and Dave Racheer recorded Moldovsky saying that Graham was happy to have the press there because they would then hear how he'd been treated under interrogation. Supposedly, the police had beaten and otherwise coerced him, which had provoked an involuntary confession. The police denied the charges.
Later during this hearing, Graham stood up and growled, "You're lying," at ADA Roger King. Deputies rushed to control him should he show evidence of aggression, and Graham's mother, present in the courtroom, asked him to be quiet. His comment apparently was in response to King, who muttered, "You should get a better defender." In fact, the entire trial would prove to be an antagonistic and even personal struggle between the two attorneys.

Animosity Between the Lawyers


Joel Moldovsky
Joel Moldovsky
Moldovsky accused King of withholding a statement from his client, made by a woman, Mary Hogan, who'd once lived with Graham. King denied it and they'd argued over the case. Latrone warned them to cut down on the animosity.
On February 17, Moldovsky indicated that because murder was inconsistent with Graham's peaceful personality, he clearly had been framed for the deaths of the seven women. "He's not a killer," Moldovsky said, "he's a lover." Graham had admitted to murder only after the police suggested it, because his mental age was that of an impressionable 9-year-old. It was possible that the women found in his apartment had died from overdoses or been killed by others and dumped where they were discovered.
A week later, Moldovsky tried again with another psychiatric expert. Dr. Timothy Michaels, a psychiatrist, stated that Graham could not have comprehended his constitutional rights when he waved them at the time he made his incriminating statements. He was a heavy drug user, mentally retarded, and mentally defective in other ways, so he could not have known what he was doing when he confessed.
ADA King insisted that the doctor's opinion was ludicrous; it was far too removed from the time of the police interrogation to render an accurate judgment of competence at the time. Other experts had already testified that they couldn't make a judgment in the matter.
Homicide Sergeant John Finn brought evidence into the courtroom that had been seized from the abandoned building where Graham had hidden during the manhunt. Among the items was his Cookie Monster puppet, which he immediately asked to have back. "I sleep with that," he said. But the puppet remained in evidence.
The pre-trial hearings ran for fourteen days. Then Judge Latrone suggested that he was inclined to throw out Graham's confession to four of the murders. When he'd initially been questioned, Graham had admitted to three. When he was questioned later by Detective Hansen, he added the rest, but Hansen had not reread him his rights, as he was required to do by law. That made part of the confession precarious.
But in the end, Latrone allowed the entire statement into evidence, along with the graphic photographs taken at the scene. He also decided to sequester the jury, and selection for the trial began on March 4. King announced that he would seek the death penalty.

Prosecution

Joel Moldovsky had honed his defense in preparation for how he was going to fight for his client: It wasn't just insanity, he said, it was multiple personalities. Harrison Frank Graham, Jr., according to the Daily News, was presented as having three distinct personalities. "Frank" was a foulmouthed drug addict and murderer; "Junior" was an unmanageable two-year-old who adored the Cookie Monster, and "Marty" was the likeable handyman who worshipped his mother and had complied with the police to confess to the murders. Graham had apparently fought with another inmate and blamed it on "Frank." King dismissed all of this by saying that Graham was just a streetwise faker.
Graham's mother believed in his innocence throughout; she said that she'd never have turned him in if she believed he would be convicted. It was her contention that he could not have purchased the blankets and sheets in which the bodies had been wrapped, so he did not kill them. Someone else did.
On March 8, Graham waived his right to a jury trial and chose to have the judge decide his case. Apparently his attorney and his mother had convinced him that a jury would be offended by the graphic evidence and would then be less objective than the judge. Latrone had already heard much of the evidence, so the duration of the trial would be considerably shorter than expected.

Surprise Testimony

Right away, there was a surprise. A woman named Paula testified for the prosecution that she had lived with Graham for three years and, during sex, he would place his hands around her throat and squeeze. On several occasions she thought he was killing her and said that he actually wanted to hurt her. He told her that he'd killed one of his former girlfriends, Robin DeShazor, because he'd been angry that she was seeing other men. Graham had threatened Paula with the same treatment. She also said that he'd admitted to practicing necrophilia with the corpse, provoking an outburst from Graham, who accused her of lying. But she continued to talk about how he'd barricaded her into the apartment, threatened her with a machete, and sometimes raped her when she was in a stupor from drugs.
Paula also said that she'd visited Graham after she moved out and had smelled a foul stench from the room they'd previously used as a bedroom. He'd told her it was from a bucket into which he urinated and warned her, like Bluebeard, never to look into that back room if she was there alone, because she wouldn't be able to deal with what she would find.
Henri-Landru, the serial killer also known as Bluebeard
Henri-Landru, the serial killer also known as Bluebeard
However, the fact that Graham had beaten Robin DeShazor to death rather than killing her by asphyxiation, coupled with the fact that Paula had survived her three years with him, helped the defense. In addition, this testimony added credibility to the possibility that Graham was unable to appreciate what he was doing.

The Corpse on the Roof

Two days later, Mary Hogan also testified to having lived with him and survived. She said they'd have sex four or five times a day. He tried to strangle her as well, and she saw the body of Robin DeShazor on the roof. (That meant the corpse had been there since before October 1986.) In order to get out with her belongings, she had to seek assistance from the police, because Graham had threatened to kill her with a machete and had shut her inside the apartment. She did tell an officer about the corpse on the roof, but he didn't believe her.
The prosecutor seemed to want to force her to see the error of her ways by subjecting her to one graphic slide after another of what had been found in the apartment. Even worse, Moldovsky requested that she pull the Cookie Monster puppet out of a bag of items that Graham had taken with him from the apartment. She did not want to touch it, although she said that he'd chatted with it every day.
There was drama in the humid courtroom when Hogan said she'd never loved Graham and had not been pregnant as he'd thought she was. At this testimony, he grabbed the witness table, jumped up and shoved aside two deputies. He wanted them to leave him alone. Apparently he disliked the idea that he'd been duped, or so his attorney said to reporters.
When a drug-addict companion of Graham's took the stand, he described watching Graham try to choke two women during altercations. Both were among the dead and one was killed shortly after the man had seen the argument. He also said that Graham had admitted to murdering the other women, and he'd even seen Mary Mathis lying on the bed when Graham had invited him in to see the source of the terrible odor coming from his apartment. (This witness's statements were set aside when it was learned he'd been found incompetent to be sentenced for his own crime and that he'd been paid for his testimony.)
After four weeks, the ADA rested his case. Then it was Moldovsky's turn.

The Defense

The first witness on Graham's behalf was his former foster mother. Wilhelmina Williams had taken care of him from age 2 to 7 and she said that he'd been a "slow learner." He was essentially incapable of taking care of himself. She had never seen him learn to read or write.
Graham's mother supported this when she said that her son never seemed to learn anything. Unlike her other children, he'd fail to grasp the difference between right and wrong. He was also a troublemaker in school and suffered from nightmares.
Another psychiatrist also testified on the issue of insanity. Dr. Timothy Michals said that since Graham could not recall anything about the first five murders, it was not possible to judge his mental state at the time of those crimes. However, during the last two murders, which were still fresh when he was arrested, he had been in a psychotic state. He'd hallucinated the voices of both God and the devil. When cross-examined about Graham's apparent awareness that a discovery of the body on the roof meant he'd be arrested, Michals said he could not address those crimes. He admitted that if Graham's statement to police had not been forced as Graham had claimed, then clearly he'd known that what he was doing was wrong. That would make him sane at the times of those crimes. Concealing the corpses indicated that as well.
When they discussed the leg bones found in the bag, Graham began to giggle. When a reporter from the Inquirer later asked him why, he said, "He left out the ankle bone." Perhaps to affirm the impression that he was mentally unhinged, Graham brought in four furry monkey puppets and set them in a row to play with while the attorneys argued his case. He also wanted to take the stand in his defense, saying, according to his attorney, "Put me on. I'll clear this up." Each day he'd entered the courtroom with a bouncy gait.
In his closing argument on April 22, Moldovsky offered some options: the women found in the apartment may have died from drug overdoses, or other people, such as the landlord's relatives, may have tampered with the scene. After all, they had "found" the bodies. Moldovsky also restated his position on the insanity defense and insisted that his client had been on drugs and may have strangled the women by accident.
ADA King declared these statements to be "sheer fantasy" and urged Judge Latrone to consider only the reality of the evidence. "Toto," he said sarcastically, "We're no longer in Kansas." No one, he pointed out, could believe that someone could accidentally strangle seven women. Graham, plain and simple, was a serial killer. "Out of his mouth," he stated, "judge him."

Guilty, but...


Harrison Graham
Harrison Graham
Judge Latrone found Graham guilty on all counts of first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse. As Latrone spoke, Graham sat up straight, blinked his eyes and shook his head. Moldovsky later told reporters, "I assume he knows he was found guilty, but I'm not sure." He then prepared to keep Graham from being executed during the sentencing phase. Despite the evidence, Graham's mother still insisted that he was innocent. "He's taking a fall," she said, meaning that he'd been set up by the landlord and his cronies. "He don't know what's going on."
Graham actually laughed and signed autographs, claiming he was not worried. "That's just how I am," he said. He turned down the opportunity to allow a jury to decide his sentence. He simply wanted his Cookie Monster back. Moldovsky thought he should be spared the death penalty so that psychologists could study him. A psychologist, Dr. Gerald Cooke, offered a statement that he had organic brain damage (although he was not an expert on the subject and this issue had already been dismissed by a neurologist). Cooke also said that Graham suffered from "sexual sadism," which is not a mental illness that makes a person insane or absolves him of guilt, so he seemed to be an ineffective witness on key issues.
During all this, the Daily News printed a story about the relatives and friends of Cookie Mathis, a victim. They discussed how they'd "known" when they'd first heard reports, that Cookie was among the victims. Her husband heard about the shirt found on a body and knew it was his wife. He'd bought it for her.

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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