NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A New Haven man serving a 52-year prison sentence after being convicted of shooting and killing an 18-year-old in 2017 has not been granted an appeal, according to a ruling scheduled to be published Tuesday.
The Connecticut Appellate Court’s advance opinion, posted online Friday, agrees with the decision to deny James Graham’s appeal in the case. Graham has been convicted of murder, felony conspiracy to commit robbery in the first degree, and carrying a pistol without a permit.
Graham was with two friends when he spotted Leandre Benton on the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, also known as the Canal Line Trail. Graham, along with Robert Moye and Brennen Coleman, were part of the “Read Street” and “Starr Block” “allied groups,” according to court documents. Benton was a member of a rival group in Hamden.
Coleman told the other two that they should rob Benton, according to the ruling. He approached Benton and asked if he was a part of the other group. Benton then punched Coleman in the face.
According to court documents, Coleman took out his gun to shoot Benton, but the gun jammed. Graham then withdrew his own pistol and shot Benton in the head. The three took money off Benton, along with his cell phone and some clothing.
Graham’s arguments in his appeal involve two statements made, including one from Moye, that named him as the shooter. The state court ruled that Moye’s testimony was allowed and that the state didn’t abuse its discretion because by testifying against Graham, Moye was also admitting to being involved in the crime. Other statements were also allowed in court because they were made to friends and were therefore considered reliable.
Moye and Coleman are currently serving 12-year sentences for conspiracy.
In court, Graham insisted that an unknown, masked man wearing black emerged from the woods and began shooting at the group. Those statements, according to the ruling, were “inconsistent with his behavior on surveillance video and sharply diverged” from other testimony.
In his appeal, Graham said that the prosecutor used a “general tailoring” argument, rather than a specific one when the prosecutor said that because Graham testified at the end of his trial, he could change his testimony to match the evidence.
In closing statements, the prosecutor showed video footage of the three men before and after the shooting. The prosecutor noted to the jury that the men weren’t ducking as if they were being shot at, and said that they had their “hands in their pockets, jogging like they are trying to get away from a crime scene.”
The appeal argues that generic tailoring arguments violate the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. However, the state appellate court wrote that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that tailoring arguments are constitutional. The prosecution and the state court also notes referenced video, GPS records, and other testimony in their closing arguments.
Graham faced up to 85 years in prison at his sentencing. Oral arguments for his appeal were heard in February.