Graf’s defense backfired


Admitted arson murderer Ed Graf’s defense team succeeded in creating a reasonable doubt in the minds of two jurors who refused to convict him for capital murder for setting the 1986 gasoline blaze that killed his two step sons Jason, 8, and Joby, 9, in a storage shed in order to receive a $100,000 life insurance benefit.

The panel deadlocked on the question 10 to 2 on the first vote, according to published reports, and remained so throughout their deliberations.

The accused murderer’s fortunes changed dramatically early in the trial when the boys’ mother testified on cross examination as to the family’s financial affairs when he bought the double indemnity life insurance policy on her children.

State 54th District Court Judge Matt Johnson reversed his pre-trial ruling and allowed damning testimony about Graf’s $75,000 embezzlement of Community State Bank on the record.

Prosecutors Michael Jarrett and Hilary Laborde convinced him defense attorney Mark Dyer’s cross examination of Graf’s ex-wife and mother of the victims Clare Bradburn left a false impression of Graf’s financial affairs. Her testimony “opened the door,” they said.

The ruling only served to make more credible the testimony of an admitted “jailhouse snitch.”

In his testimony, the criminal who sealed Graf’s fate offered key elements of the case that eventually led the desperate child murderer to suddenly plead guilty to murder, the same degree of crime jurors eventually agreed upon unanimously.

He painted a picture of a dreary 3-month sojourn in an eight-man tank at the McLennan County Jail during which he defended Graf from the wrath of fellow inmates who obviously despised the convicted capital murderer. After serving 25 years in prison for capital murder, Graf won a new trial through an appeal based on a claim of faulty evidence of arson used to obtain his 1988 conviction for the crime. His belated post-trial confession and guilty plea precludes any new appeal of his sentence of two concurrent 60-year terms. He is eligible for parole. 

Fernando Herrerra, 38, who has been previously convicted of burglary of a habitation and assault of a police officer, testified that he,

  • kept Graf from being beaten in jail;

  • that Graf admitted he set the fire with cotton balls soaked in gasoline;

  • told the jury Graf closed the shed door until smoke overcame them, then opened it;

  • said Graf bragged that the evidence didn’t fit, so jurors would have to acquit;

  • assured the attorney he had been offered no deal on pending charges to testify;

  • said he has been convicted of crimes 14 times previously, and used dozens of aliases;

  • admitted under defense cross examination he’d been “hearing voices” at night;

  • testified he has in the past worked as a confidential informant for police.

Testimony about the defendant’s savage beatings of the children paled in comparison. The contempt of his ex-wife for his fussy personality and difficult ways became a diminished refrain in the chorus of more than 30 prosecution witnesses who testified against him.

The impact of Dyer’s sarcastic question regarding Herrera’s use of aliases throughout his career of crime fell on deaf ears. He had asked the snitch, “Who are you today?”

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