Michael Ray Graham, Jr.

Double duty for snitch in double murder

Michael Ray Graham, Jr. and co-defendant Albert Ronnie Burrell were sentenced to death in 1987 for a robbery and double murder in Union Parish, Louisiana.

They were arrested after Burrell's ex-wife called the parish sheriff's office. She said she had seen Burrell the night of the crime with a rifle he told her and Graham had used to commit the crime. A jailhouse snitch promptly came forward claiming that Graham had confessed. The snitch then was moved to a cell with Burrell, who, the snitch alleged, also promptly confessed. On that basis, both men were charged with capital murder, tried separately, convicted, and sentenced to death.

During the ensuing 13 years, Graham and Burrell exhausted their standard appeals, but, when Burrell was 17 days away from execution, his ex-wife recanted, saying she had falsely implicated him in a misguided effort to gain advantage in a child-custody dispute. She said she had attempted to recant before the trial, but changed her mind after she was threatened with loss of custody if she recanted.

Meanwhile, it came to light that the snitch had been granted leniency in a pending case. That quid pro quo should have been, but had not been, disclosed prior to the trial.

Faced with the new evidence, a state district judge ordered a new trial for Graham. After a reinvestigation of the case, the Louisiana Attorney General's Office in 2000 joined in a motion seeking a retrial for Burrell, which was granted, after which all charges were dismissed against both men.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Union Parish, Louisiana
Date of crime: August 31, 1986
Date of arrest: October 12, 1986
Charge: First-degree murder
Sentence: Death
Release or exoneration date: January 2, 2001
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 159
Defendant date of birth: 1950
Defendant race: Caucasian
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: Forgery conviction
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: False information provided by co-defendant's ex-wife, police and prosecutorial misconduct
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes
Exonerated by: Recantation of co-defendant's ex-wife
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: Civil suit pending December 2002.

— Rob Warden