One of remaining Andrew Graham murder suspects' case dropped

DA's office moved to dismiss charges against Kendall Adam Austin

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Only two defendants remain accused in the fatal shooting of a 23-year-old man in the Centennial neighborhood of Willow Creek now that all charges against Kendall Adam Austin have been dismissed.

“Our position has always been that Mr. Austin's prior statements to law enforcement that he was present at the time of the homicide were false and that they were induced by improper police interrogation tactics, including the use of explicit threats and promises,” said Michael Thompson, his defense attorney.  

Nearly a decade after Andrew Graham's death, the 18th Judicial District Attorney's Office moved to dismiss all of the charges against Austin on Oct. 2.

The court granted the motion that same day, and Austin was released from jail that evening, Thompson said.

Strange circumstances

Allen Deshawn Ford, Clarissa Jae Lockhart, Austin and Joseph Martin were arrested after a grand jury in Arapahoe County called in 2016 indicted the four in connection with Graham's death. They were arrested in January 2017.

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. on East Phillips Place in Centennial, a few blocks from home.

Graham's body was found about two blocks south of some of his belongings. Credit cards and a cellphone were found in his bag there, according to authorities. His money was still in his wallet when his body was discovered.

Multiple charges

Ford and Lockhart face — and Austin previously faced — charges of first-degree felony murder, as well as conspiracy under the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act, in the case, according to the DA's office. Ford was also accused — along with Austin — of committing a pattern of racketeering under that law, which is referred to as COCCA.

Martin pleaded guilty to aggravated robbery and in February 2018 received a 10-year prison sentence and three years of mandatory parole, according to the state judicial branch.

None of those four defendants are allegedly the person who shot Graham, according to defense attorneys for Austin.

The DA's office said it could not confirm details of the cases against any of the suspects with Colorado Community Media, citing that the cases are still suppressed — no documents or further information are available for release.

Trial dates were initially set for February, March and April at a July 2018 hearing in Arapahoe County District Court. They were then pushed to April and May and, again, delayed even further.

Now, Lockhart is set for a status hearing Oct. 24, and Ford for a pre-trial conference Nov. 7, according to the DA's office. The 18th Judicial District includes Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.

'Coercion' claimed

At least part of the delay in the case was due to what the defense says is expert input on whether at least one suspect falsely confessed. It was not clear from an April 2018 proceeding which charges may have been confessed to, or by whom.

But Thompson, the defense attorney, has argued that Austin's statements that he was present at the crime scene were false.

In a July 2019 court hearing, Thompson argued that “lies and coercion” were used by law enforcement in the investigation. The prosecution disputed that improper tactics were used.

Judge Michael Spear, at that hearing, did not conclude that officers acted improperly.

The prosecution's cited reason for dismissing the charges was they decided they “no longer (had) a reasonable likelihood of success at trial,” Thompson said in an email. The prosecution also cited a general lack of forensic evidence against Austin, he added.

Gang connection?

Multiple defendants in the case were charged in Denver on suspicion of involvement in incidents in which groups of young black people attacked white and Hispanic men in downtown Denver in 2009.

Ford was convicted of two 2009 cases and was connected to that rash of crime in Denver by law enforcement, a defense attorney said Dec. 19 in court.

In a grand jury indictment earlier in the Graham case, the theory was that gang members traveled outside Denver and “(engaged) in the actions that resulted in the death” of Graham, Spear said in the July 2019 hearing.

Lengthy history

Graham's mother, Cyndi Gelston, did not wish to comment on the case after the dismissal of Austin's charges.

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, stating that it lacked enough evidence to recommend trial.

Graham was a recent University of Colorado graduate who planned to pursue graduate studies in math and civil engineering.

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