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Shaka Sankofa aka Gary Graham born Gary Lee Graham (September 5, 1963 - June 22, 2000). Sankofa was put to death for the murder of fifty-three year-old Bobby Lambert in Houston, Texas on May 13, 1981. The murder happened when Sankofa was seventeen.
Sankofa was found guilty of shooting Lambert in the parking lot of a Houston supermarket. He told police that he had done ten robberies that week, but did not kill Lambert. The government believed he has done as many as 22 robberies which had happened in that area during that time. One of these included Graham using a shotgun to rob a man who Graham gave a ride to when the man's car stopped working on the highway. During that robbery, the man tried to escape and was shot by Graham but he did live. While there was no physical evidence to link Graham to the murder, one woman was in the parking lot at the time and saw him do it. She said she heard the gunshot and turned on the lights of her car. She saw Graham as he started running and followed him out of the parking lot with her car. There were several other people inside the store but none of them saw the shooting. Sankofa's supporters brought his case international attention, aruging that his conviction was based on the testimony of a single eyewitness who said she saw him for a few seconds in the dark parking lot committing the murder and she was 30 feet away from the murder scene. The jury did not hear testimony from six other apparent eyewitnesses who believed that Sankofa was not the killer.
Sankofa put to death after many legal tries by his lawyers to stop it. These including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court refused to stop the execution. Sankofa's lawyers also filed a civil suit saying the execution was against his civil rights. District Court Judge James Nowlin rejected that claim.
Many people believe that Sankofa did not kill Lambert. They believe that his lawyers did not do a good job because they thought he was guilty. Sankofa was put to death on an evidence of one person alone. None of the people that saw the man in the store and said this man was 6 inches shorter and thinner than Sankofa were used in the court case. Sankofa's lawyer at the time of his execution believed that the only person who saw the crime was not to be trusted because of how the police dealt with how she identified him. A gun found with Graham when he was arrested a week later was not the murder weapon. Most controversial of all is the fact that weapon used to kill Lambert did not produce any Gary Graham's fingerprints.
Some groups still claim he did not do this crime. Sankofa's supporters brought his case international attention. They also say that it is against international law to put someone to death for a crime they did before they became an adult of 18 years of age. Such unprecedented convictions based on sole witness are rare but they happen in USA, other known example was Larry Griffin who was executed in 1991.
There are groups to this day trying to clear Shaka of murder.
- News sites
- CNN transcript of an interview with Sankofa and others about the murder.
- Support sights for Sankofa