The unsolved death of a 23-year-old college graduate in the Willow Creek neighborhood of Centennial more than eight years ago has resulted in 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.
The victim, Andrew Graham, was walking home from a nearby light-rail station 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.
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.
Joseph 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.
The case is suppressed, meaning no documents or further information are available for release.
Ford is set for arraignment — where he'll be formally advised of his charges in court and plead guilty or not guilty — June 15, the district attorney's office said. Lockhart's arraignment is set for May 18, and a motions hearing — which comes before trial — is set for June 28 for Austin, the office said.
Long road to 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 — 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.
Court documents from the first grand jury paint a picture of witnesses who recanted statements, admitted testimony they provided came from news accounts or rumor, and provided information that conflicted with physical evidence.
Now, in an April 27 proceeding in Arapahoe County District Court, 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.
It was not clear from the 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. “The question is the validity of the confessions.”
A trip home
The incident gave way to years of struggling to gather conclusive evidence in a case with strange details.
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 case or bag there, according to authorities. His money was still in his wallet when his body was discovered.
Graham was last seen alive at 11:40 p.m. Nov. 5, 2009, videotaped exiting the train by a security camera at the station. He had been looking for an apartment in Boulder that day and would often walk from the station to his parents' house in Willow Creek, his mother told Colorado Community Media at the time.
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.
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 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.
'He was a light'
Graham, a Cherry Creek High School graduate, is remembered as compassionate young man with a knack for helping strangers.
“Andrew was such an exemplary human being,” Gelston said April 27, adding that she thinks that's what spurred on efforts by law enforcement to continue to pursue the case.
Graham was “intelligent, honorable, kind and humble,” Gelston said.
“Usually, in a group, if there's a bad apple, everyone's brought down to their level,” Gelston said. “Andrew brought everybody up.”
After his death, Gelston received several letters from Graham's friends and professors. She has two binders that carry the letters, along with photos.
“That's what makes this so sad. He was a light, when there's so much darkness out there,” Gelston said. “To have people like that taken away — I will never understand the thinking.”
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