WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court denied claims by a death-row inmate Wednesday that evidence was doctored and suppressed in his trial for the 1986 kidnapping, robbery and murder of an elderly Las Vegas man near Kingman.
The evidence tampering was just one of several claims by Graham Henry that were flatly rejected by a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld lower court decisions in the case.
Henry’s attorney, Robin Konrad, said Wednesday that she was disappointed by the decision but that the defense team was still determining its options.
The case began in June 1986 when Henry and another man, Vernon Foote, set out on a road trip from California to Arizona. Their car broke down outside Las Vegas and was towed to Henderson, Nev., where the two men, who had been drinking along the way, headed to a bar.
There, they met Roy Estes, an older man who agreed to drive the two to Arizona for $50, according to the court opinion. Henry claimed he slept in the back of Estes’ truck while Foote drove and woke up two hours later when he heard Foote and Estes arguing.
Henry said he saw Foote hit Estes, pull him out of a truck and stab him, at which point Henry said he got out and dragged Estes away from Foote.
But prosecutors said Henry was the driver and that he and Foote worked together, dragging Estes to a bush off the side of the road where they stabbed and left him.
The two drove away, but Henry was pulled over a short time later for driving on the wrong side of the highway. He gave police a false name and was arrested for drunken driving.
Henry was still being held several days later when detectives learned his real name and asked him about Estes, at which point Henry led them to the body and told police Foote had killed Estes.
Henry and Foote were tried separately. Foote ultimately pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but Henry went to trial and lost. He was sentenced to death in March 1988.
On appeal, Henry raised multiple challenges.
He said prosecutors did not use a drawing by Foote that Henry claims showed Foote’s tracks on either side of Estes’ and Henry’s footprints running from the vehicle to scene of the stabbing. Henry said that buttressed his version of the story.
But the court said the drawing would have done little to help Henry: “The drawing is practically indecipherable, and its source – an individual who was also charged with the murder of Estes – is not particularly trustworthy,” Judge Raymond Fisher wrote in the opinion.
The court also rejected Henry’s claim that crime-scene photos were omitted and altered, as well as his claims that jurors engaged in misconduct and that courts did not give enough weight to mitigating evidence in his sentencing. It also denied his argument that his lawyer did not present mitigating evidence at a rehearing.
Henry’s lawyers could ask for a rehearing by the full circuit court and, ultimately, to the Supreme Court but Konrad said Wednesday that no decisions have been made.
Arizona Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Bass, who argued the case, said his office was pleased by the decision – 25 years after sentence was imposed.
“It’s a shame that the victim’s family and that the people of Arizona have had to wait for justice in this case,” Bass said.