A Todd County man who spent nine years behind bars before rape and murder convictions against him were vacated and the charges dismissed claims in a lawsuit that Kentucky State Police detectives and a former Todd County sheriff conspired to frame him for the crimes.
Norman Graham was tried twice for the 1980 slaying of his girlfriend, Janice Kaye Williams, who was found stabbed to death in Graham’s trailer in the Tiny Town Trailer Park of Guthrie.
A trial in 1981 ended with a hung jury on the murder count and the rape charge against Graham was dismissed, but he was indicted on both charges by another grand jury in 2007, found guilty at trial the next year on both counts and sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Graham maintained his innocence throughout the years, but he did not catch a break in the case until 2016, when two people came forward to give sworn statements that they were playing outside the trailer on the night Williams was killed, heard a woman screaming from Graham’s trailer and then saw Roy Wayne Dean, who lived in the trailer park at the time, run from the area behind the trailer shortly afterward.
Dean is currently serving a life sentence in Kentucky, having been convicted of a separate Todd County murder from 1984 and a murder of a woman in Clarksvville, Tenn., around the same time. He has not been charged in connection with Williams’ death.
The two witnesses who swore affidavits and later testified in open court claiming to have seen Dean on the night of the slaying were one of his sisters, Renee Dean, and her cousin, Barbara Dean Keaton.
After those witnesses and others came forward and Graham’s defense team from the Kentucky Innocence Project filed motions in the case, Graham’s convictions were overturned by a special judge in Todd Circuit Court who found that the new evidence warranted another trial, and the case against him was dismissed last year following a motion by Neil Kerr, commonwealth’s attorney for Todd and Logan counties.
Now 74 and living in Clarksville, Graham claims in the lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green that the late Todd County Sheriff Laurin Morris and six Kentucky State Police officers worked to fabricate false evidence against Graham and withheld information gathered during their investigation that pointed to Dean and two other possible suspects.
“I’ve already been tried twice, I’m 74 years old and I’d rather not go through that again,” Graham said. “I’m innocent and I spent nine years and six days in the Kentucky state prison system for something I didn’t do. I had to try to start my life all over again at the ripe old age of 71, which is not an easy thing to do, as you can imagine.”
In addition to the estate of Morris, who died in 2013, and Todd County, the lawsuit names the estates of former KSP officers Vernon Albro, Larry Bollinger and Steven Silfies and KSP officers Robert Miller, Scott Smith and A. Bell as defendants.
Attorney Amy Robinson Staples claims in the lawsuit that the police lacked probable cause to bring a case against Graham, listing several instances in which Graham appeared to have been harmed by investigators’ actions.
KSP’s Public Affairs branch in Frankfort did not respond to an email request for comment.
Prior to Graham’s first trial in 1981, police developed two possible suspects other than Graham, who cooperated with police and said he was out of town on the night of the murder and found Williams’ body upon returning home.
Police investigated those two potential suspects, but withheld that information from prosecutors, Graham and his attorney, according to the lawsuit.
Police also learned of a threatening letter sent to Williams’ mother and threatening phone calls made to a neighbor after the slaying, determined that Graham was not responsible for those messages and withheld that information as well, the lawsuit said.
No blood was found on Graham’s clothing from that night, or on a knife he was known to carry, and a jumpsuit belonging to Williams found near her body underwent a forensic examination, which found no blood or semen.
According to the lawsuit, Graham agreed to be subject to a “hypnotist interrogation” and provided a semen sample that was later planted on the jumpsuit, which was resubmitted by Albro along with other items to a KSP laboratory, where forensic analysis identified the semen.
After the 1981 mistrial, the investigation continued, and police were soon investigating three additional slayings in the area to determine whether they were linked with the death of Williams and whether one person was responsible for all the slayings.
The lawsuit claims that police developed evidence demonstrating the killing of Williams was linked to other crimes found to have been committed by Dean, but that information was withheld from Graham, his attorney and prosecutors.
The investigation remained dormant until 2001, when KSP Detective Brad Stevenson, who is not a defendant in the suit, assumed the lead role and submitted evidence to the KSP laboratory for DNA testing. Two different semen and DNA sources were identified through the testing, and Stevenson found no new leads.
Silfies and Smith took over the investigation in 2006, and Silfies, who died in 2017, is accused of presenting false and fabricated evidence to a grand jury within weeks of coming onto the investigation and obtaining new indictments against Graham, resulting in his trial and conviction.
Staples, who represented Graham in his efforts to get his convictions overturned and has filed the civil suit on his behalf, said Graham cooperated with police “in every possible way,” talking with officers at the crime scene, providing forensic samples, giving police his clothing and knife for analysis, agreeing to the meeting with the hypnotist and volunteering to speak with detectives multiple times over the years, even after he moved to Tennessee, where KSP did not have jurisdiction.
“Norman cooperated in every way that he could and it still ended with them wrongfully pointing the finger at him and initiating charges without probable cause,” Staples said in an interview.
Staples said Silfies had no new evidence when the case was brought before a second grand jury in 2007.
The lawsuit characterizes Graham as a man who spent the years between trials “looking over his shoulder” and then realizing his worst nightmare upon being convicted.
Graham, who was diagnosed with cancer during his imprisonment, said the worries about the case never left him even after the first mistrial and the initial
dismissal of charges against him in 1982.
“I worked heavy construction up and down the East Coast back between trials, and every time I came back to (Clarksville), I would get called in for another go-around with the KSP wanting to talk with me,” Graham said. “I always had this in the back of my mind.”
The defendants are being sued for claims that include malicious prosecution, fabrication of false evidence, violation of Graham’s due process rights, conspiracy to deprive Graham’s constitutional rights, negligent supervision, supervisory liability, failure to intervene and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
The lawsuit asks for an unspecified amount of damages, and Staples said one of the driving aims of the suit is to clear Graham’s name.
The criminal charges against him were dismissed last year without prejudice, which means they can be brought back against him at any time.
Asked why Graham remained the focus of the investigation over the years, Staples said police may have concluded early on that Graham was the most obvious culprit.
“I think Norman was the easy suspect, he was the boyfriend, it happened at his trailer and he was the one who discovered the body,” Staples said. “You’re dealing with investigators back then who didn’t at least appear to have a lot of experience or training in how to properly handle a murder investigation, so it was a simple thing for them to do to insist on the boyfriend rather than conducting a real investigation of the real perpetrator.”