Politics & Policy

The Day After

Making sense of the Graham case.

Was Gary Graham guilty of murdering Bobby Lambert? In all likelihood, yes. Was his trial fair? Hell, I don’t know, depends on what you mean by fair, but a lot of people objectively looked at the evidence and green-lighted his execution. Should we mourn his death? Absolutely not.

Graham was a rapist, an armed robber, and, let us not forget, a convicted murderer. He was caught after committing a vicious week-long crime spree which included his shooting of two other people — which he confessed to. If he had been shot to death while he was raping someone or sticking up a store, there is not a reasonable person in the world who would doubt that his death was warranted. He risked his life and pressed his luck while raping, robbing, and killing. He got away with it at the time. Eventually his luck caught up with him, like someone with a slow-acting bullet wound. “By no way are we happy Gary Graham is dead,” said Lambert’s son to the Associated Press. But: “He put himself in that situation. We didn’t put him there.”

To understand how much he pressed his luck and how completely he put himself in that situation, consider how the man was caught. On May 21, 1981, he raped Lisa Blackburn over the course of five hours. He told her, “I have killed three people, and I’m going to kill you,’” Blackburn, now 75, recalls. Graham took all of her valuables and stacked them by the front door. Then, he took a nap in her bedroom. “So I took his gun, I took his clothes and called the police,” recounts Blackburn.

Nineteen years later he was still waiting for the justice he deserved at the time. And because justice was slow in catching up with him, he was able to encourage much mischief over the years. Indeed, even in the moments before he was executed, he implored blacks to take up violence and kill in his name. “Avenge this genocide,” Graham said, “….by any means necessary” — including armed struggle.

We need not be happy he is dead, but he was not a good man and this world will be no less sunny a place without him.

What this case exposes is America’s deeply ingrained confusion between procedural fairness and cosmic fairness. If his trial was unfair I feel as much sympathy for him as I would if his getaway car wouldn’t start, or in this case, if he grew unexpectedly weary after a week of shooting, raping, and robbing. Sometimes, thank goodness, guilty people have bad luck — and often, they are comically stupid.

Whether our emphasis on the rules over the substance is a distinctly American reaction or whether it is in our genetic code I don’t know. Certainly everyone has had some experience with childhood rage at being “unfairly” caught at something they actually did. If, on a rare occasion, my parents snooped around my room and found something I shouldn’t have, I would always try to make their “unjust” search and seizure the issue. Alas, due-process arguments never flew too far with my parents, and they don’t now with their son. Guilt is guilt. If I kill someone, I am not rendered a hero or martyr or saint — as Graham has been by so many — because an “I” wasn’t dotted or a “T” crossed in the process of the discovery of my crime.

But if he did not commit the murder he was convicted of, that is unfortunate: not for him, let him choke in hell on the irony of it all. It is unfortunate, rather, for us, because it undermines the integrity of our justice system. And the Left has caught on to this. They’ve discovered a wonderfully poll-tested formulation against the death penalty: Justice cannot be meted out because the machinery that delivers it breaks down too much. It is the perfect political argument because it ignores the only pertinent question: guilt or innocence (For more on this see Robert Pambianco’s piece for NR Online). And it is a legitimate argument. It is an understatement of Biblical proportions to say that the integrity of our system is more important than people like Gary Graham. That’s why death-penalty proponents should support efforts to make the system more reliable, if only for public-relations purposes.

Imagine my shock to discover that Alan Dershowitz, that pillar of asininity, agrees with me at least on the point that we need not mourn Graham. Asked if he was sad that Graham was dying Dershowitz said, “Well, I have no sadness for this man Graham. He deserves everything he gets. This is not about Graham. This is about whether or not we will continue to tolerate a system…” that, in Dershowitz’s beady eyes, is unjust.

Now I disagree with Dershowitz on the substance of almost everything else. He is perfectly happy to argue that men guilty of rape and murder deserve total freedom because of the arrangement of his words and the honest mistakes of constables. Dershowitz himself has conceded that O.J. Simpson was probably guilty — he just didn’t care because the checks cleared and the TV bookers returned his calls. To him, procedural justice should trump cosmic justice whenever possible, for he is a whore made prosperous by his ability to tickle Lady Justice under her skirts.

I have never been able to comprehend where justice lay in this sort of thinking. According to the Miranda rule and other progeny of the Warren Court, if a police officer arrests an obviously guilty person without the right procedure, the obviously guilty man can go free. If the police find a rape victim’s clothes and DNA in my home, but they get it without a search warrant, I may well end up being free to go. Why? Why not fine the police officer? Why not fire him? Why not press criminal charges? If ever there were a more putrid example of two wrongs not making a right, it is in the notion that a policeman’s criminal actions should exonerate a criminal’s actions.

Fortunately, Gary Graham is somewhere where such procedural considerations are given their proper weight.


First, please come check out “NRO Weekend” tomorrow and Sunday. It will be chock-a-block with good stuff for the lazy-summer-afternoon conservative web nut, including Rich Lowry’s review of The Patriot (I’ll be reviewing it for the print edition).

Second, I have been asked by the Party of the Right to speak to the Yale Political Union this Fall. I think this is really extremely cool and I don’t want any of you trying to persuade me otherwise. But what I could use from you are some ideas about what I should talk about. My understanding is that I present a case and then they beat me up Lord of the Flies style. So, if you can think of an argument I can win that’s interesting and funny, let me know.

Third, my next column for Brill’s Content, where I am still their in-house right-wing media critic, will be on how the press favors Democrats in presidential elections. If anybody has specific, confirmable examples of such things, let me know. No offense, but very long, fact-free essays this close to my deadline are not helpful.

And as a reward, if you can play Quicktime movies and you haven’t seen this EDS cat-herding commercial, you must click here.

Have a good weekend.


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