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Life After Death Row

Christopher Hill,
Capital Punishment Project
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October 28, 2008

Execution’s Doorstep: True Stories of the Innocent and Near Damned is a new book by Leslie Lytle about five men who were released from death row. One of the stories told is that of Michael Graham. Mr. Graham was unlawfully convicted for the 1986 murder of an elderly couple in Louisiana.

Mr. Graham was exonerated from death row in December of 2000. The story between 1986 and 2000 is fascinating, frustrating and frightening. One of the lighter moments of the story is when Mr. Graham is in the shower and is told to call his lawyer. His lawyer was our own Capital Punishment Project Director, John Holdridge. Graham called and says “John was hollering and screaming and crying…saying ‘[w]e got a new trial, man, we got a new trial.”

Solid investigation helped to get the favorable ruling from a judge. John walked into a small coffee shop and met a local mayor and former police chief. The former cop told John “[a]sk me the right questions, and you’ll like the answers but you’ve gotta ask the right questions.” John obviously asked the right questions.

The new trial never happened. The Louisiana State Attorney General decided not to retry Mr. Graham.

Mr. Graham left prison with $10, a denim jacket four sizes too big, and no training. He has a lawsuit against the State of Louisiana but there is no guarantee that he will win the suit. Mr. Graham currently lives in a small mobile home and works odd jobs.

Mr. Graham’s story is not uncommon. Many exonerees leave prison without a way to support themselves and no medical care. It is clear that there has to be a system which provides income maintenance and health care. Reentry programs are insufficient for people serving sentences with a term of years. They are nonexistent for innocent people whom the state planned to kill. Our unlawfully convicted need laws that provide them with actual freedom. Without a way to support themselves, the exonerated are released from prison, but they are not free.

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