Suspects in 2009 Centennial slaying set for trial

Nearly nine years after incident, three suspects to face trial in early 2019

Posted 7/20/18

Three of the four suspects in the 2009 death of a 23-year-old man in the Willow Creek neighborhood of Centennial will face trial in February, March and April, a judge decided on July 18. The death of …

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Suspects in 2009 Centennial slaying set for trial

Nearly nine years after incident, three suspects to face trial in early 2019

Posted

Three of the four suspects in the 2009 death of a 23-year-old man in the Willow Creek neighborhood of Centennial will face trial in February, March and April, a judge decided on July 18.

The death of Andrew Graham nearly nine years ago shook the community. The case has seen four arrests and one conviction — after an initial investigation years earlier turned up no results.

Allen Deshawn Ford, Clarissa Jae Lockhart, Kendall Adam Austin and Joseph Martin were arrested after a grand jury in Arapahoe County called in 2016 indicted the four. They were arrested in January 2017.

Ford, Lockhart and Austin face charges of first-degree felony murder, as well as conspiracy under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, according to the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office. Ford and Austin are also accused of committing a pattern of racketeering under that law, according to the office.

Martin pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and received a 10-year prison sentence and three years of mandatory parole, according to the state judicial branch. He was sentenced Feb. 7.

On July 18, the Arapahoe County District Court set trial for February for Ford, March for Austin and April for Lockhart. Defense attorneys pushed for more time before the trials, arguing they don't know what type of cases they'll have to contend, given the potential issues of alleged theft, murder or conspiracy involved.

The three defendants' cases involve “mountainous amounts of paperwork,” but they were filed in early 2017, and the case in general is nearly 9 years old, Judge Patricia Herron said.

“So understanding that it all takes time, it is time,” Herron said.

Graham was walking home from a light-rail station near the Willow Creek area shortly before midnight on Nov. 5, 2009. On the way home in the early-morning hours of Nov. 6, he was fatally shot, according to authorities. He was found at about 5:30 a.m. in the 8700 block of East Phillips Place in Centennial.

A previous grand jury called in 2011 gave up on the case after about 18 months that saw testimony from 63 witnesses and more than 100 exhibits of evidence — including photos, transcripts and recordings — stating that it lacked enough evidence to recommend trial.

Although law enforcement developed multiple suspects at the time, the admissible evidence against them “consisted of not much more than what existed before the grand-jury investigation began,” prosecutors from the district attorney's office told Cyndi Gelston, Graham's mother, in a letter.

In an April 27 court proceeding, the defense attorney for Lockhart argued that defendants have given false confessions.

“The court is aware that has affected many cases — the Central Park five is the best example,” said Neil Silver, referring to the case of five black and Latino teenagers wrongly convicted of raping a white woman in New York City in 1989. Silver plans to call in expert input to weigh in on whether the confessions were false. A three-day hearing for that input is scheduled for December.

It was not clear from the April proceeding which charges may have been confessed to, or by whom. Silver challenged the validity of the types of evidence.

“This has no DNA, there is no video, there are no witnesses — there are (statements),” Silver said in April. “The question is the validity of the confessions.”

Denver-area news outlets have reported that multiple suspects arrested were believed to have been involved in incidents in which groups of young black people attacked white and Hispanic men in downtown Denver in 2009.

Silver said in April that prosecutors opted for indictment under the organized-crime law based on suspicion of black-youth gangs targeting white people, which raised a question of “implicit bias,” he said. Media coverage of those details is a pre-trial issue and prejudices the defendants, he argued.

Graham, at the time a recent University of Colorado graduate who planned to pursue graduate studies in math and civil engineering, was found about two blocks south of some of his belongings. Credit cards and a cell phone were found in his bag there, according to authorities. His money was still in his wallet when his body was discovered.

According to Grayson Robinson, the Arapahoe County sheriff at the time, Graham ran into foul play somewhere along his regular route and collapsed about six blocks from home. A bullet had penetrated his chest and abdomen.

Graham, a Cherry Creek High School graduate, is remembered as a compassionate young man with a knack for helping strangers.

“Usually, in a group, if there's a bad apple, everyone's brought down to their level,” Gelston said in April. “Andrew brought everybody up.”

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