During an opening statement Tuesday in a felony assault, robbery, theft and tampering case, the defense said the real blame belongs not to the man in court wearing an orange jumpsuit, but to the Juneau Police Department.
The person who delivered that opening statement also happened to be a Lemon Creek Correctional Center inmate.
“This is an intricate plot that did not start on March 17. This story goes way back,” said Laron Carlton Graham, a man on trial for four felony and 10 misdemeanor charges.
Graham, 38, decided to act as his own defense in Juneau’s Superior Court after dismissing three court-appointed attorneys. Some of Graham’s charges stem from a March 17 incident when he allegedly threatened to throw a woman out of her top-floor Gruening Park apartment in front of her infant child, slapped her, then proceeded to steal a vehicle she had borrowed from a friend, according to an affidavit prepared by the prosecution. Other recent charges are the result of calls Graham made from inside LCCC, asking the victim to drop all the charges despite a court order that Graham not contact her.
The unusual case of an inmate defending himself against 14 charges that could cost him 35 years in prison was made more curious Tuesday when he admitted to nine of the charges — seven unlawful contact misdemeanors, one misdemeanor for ignoring a domestic violence protection order, and one first-degree felony of tampering with a witness’ testimony — in his opening statement.
“I don’t deny that any of these phone calls took place,” Graham told the jury, following that confession by addressing the confusion he saw on people’s faces. “Some of y’all may say, ‘Well, we’re looking at a fool,’ … (the other lawyers) wanted me to shut up. They didn’t want me to speak to the jury, but see, Mr. Graham ain’t got nothing to hide.”
Graham insisted on several occasions in court that he was on an equal playing field with the prosecution and not at a disadvantage because he didn’t have a lawyer. He equated the legal system to a game of chess and said he was the understudy of chess champion Bobby Fischer, and he would use the courtroom to reveal “corruption, collusion (and) conspiracy” by JPD. He said he also refused offers by court officials to dress him in street clothes and instead he wanted to be real with the jury and show them who he really is, orange jump suit and all.
Graham told the jury that he moved to Juneau with another woman last year and that he’s originally from Philadelphia. He met the victim and started a romantic relationship with her shortly after, also developing a relationship with her two children, one elementary-aged girl and one infant girl. But sometime after October, he said JPD officers began to follow him and were attempting to pin a murder on him, although he did not say which murder.
He said he believes JPD coerced the victim with threats of taking her children away to make her comply in a plot to bring him.
“You do remember the conversation that we had about OCS, right?” Graham said, seeming to quote a message he found on the victim’s cell phone from JPD detective Matt DuBois. “So can I let OCS know that you will fully cooperate?”
Actual screen images of the conversation were not shown in court, although Graham did say he plans on presenting texts as evidence during the trial.
Assistant District Attorney Angie Kemp avoided talks about corruption and conspiracy in her opening statement Tuesday, instead laying the groundwork for a case she said is based solely on a man who was motivated by jealousy and later, when desperate for a way out of jail, tried to manipulate the victim to drop the charges.
“Tell them that you were too drunk and you don’t remember,” Kemp said, acting out a phone conversation between Graham and the victim.
The actual first day of trial only allowed time for one witness to testify, and that was John Hinkleman, the man the victim spent the evening with before her alleged attack by Graham. Prosecution asked him to confirm his involvement with the victim and to verify it was his car that Graham allegedly stole. Hinkleman did just that.
Graham followed up by asking Hinkleman if he was persuaded by JPD to press charges, and if he knew for sure who it was who stole his car March 17. Hinkleman said the police did not pressure him, and that he only knew what police told him: that Graham was the one who stole the car.
The trial will continue today with the victim and JPD officers taking the stand. Audio from phone calls is also expected to be played for jury members.
• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at email@example.com or call (907) 523-2272.