Corey Graham Sr.’s jaw dropped open Tuesday as he sat in the courtroom.
A longtime friend and Palm Beach County Sheriff’s detective had just testified that Graham told her his mother had recognized his son, Corey Graham Jr., as the man who shot Belle Glade grocer Jimmy McMillan from surveillance video shown on television after the January 2012 murder.
Soon after that admission, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Det. Terrina Shahid said, the elder Graham went into an interrogation room and got his son to confess to the killing. Now Corey Graham Jr.’s lawyers are trying to have that confession thrown out. They claim, among other arguments, that detectives in the case improperly used Graham’s own parents as their agents to elicit a confession, even though he had told them he no longer wanted to talk to them.
Attorneys began presenting testimony Tuesday on the request to throw out Corey Graham Jr.’s confession before Circuit Judge Charles Burton, who will decide the matter after the hearing concludes March 7. On Tuesday, the teen’s father shook his head after he heard Shahid — who went to high school with him — testify for the prosecution.
“Lying,” Corey Graham Sr. mouthed to his mother, seated across the bench from him in the courtroom.
In front of them, Graham Jr. sat shackled, appearing much thinner than he was in January 2012, when police arrested him and charged him with McMillan’s murder.
At the time, the former Glades Central High School football player was 19 and had no criminal record. Police linked him to surveillance video from the robbery through a tattoo on his right hand. Graham Jr. has his mother’s first and last names — Errica Hearns — tattooed on his hands.
In their written request to have his confession thrown out, Graham Jr.’s public defenders, Carey Haughwout and David John McPherrin, said that when the teen told investigators he didn’t want to talk to them anymore after they questioned him on Jan. 16, they had no lawful right to use his parents to work around that rejection — even if the parents knew that police were using them to get more information from their son.
“All that mattered was that police, knowing that they could no longer question [t]he defendant, used the defendant’s parents to question him for them,” McPherrin wrote. “Under the circumstances of this case, the defendant’s parents became agents of the police and, as a result, any statements they elicited from the defendant were obtained in violation of his right to remain silent.”
In her written response to the defense request, state prosecutor Barbara Burns said although deputies hadn’t officially arrested Graham Jr. by the time of that interview, they could have arrested him based on the evidence they’d already collected. Plus, she said, no one ever told him that the conversations with his parents were private, and a video camera was plainly visible inside the interrogation room.
“There was no active manipulation of the circumstances by detectives to intentionally foster an expectation of privacy,” Burns said.
Burton will continue hearing testimony, as well as arguments from attorneys on both sides, on March 7.
The judge also set Graham’s trial tentatively for early May.
In November, a jury acquitted Jonathan Rashad Jones on charges that he was an accessory after the fact in McMillan’s murder.