22 June 2000 – Shaka Sankofa (aka Gary Graham)

Shaka SankofaDodgy eye-witness reports can really do you in. Not least in the case of Gary Graham, who’s incarceration and subsequent execution were to launch a whole campaign for the abolition of the death penalty in America.

Graham (or Shaka Sankofa as he renamed himself while on death row) may well have been innocent. Instead it appears that he was a victim of society.

Graham was flung in jail for the murder of one Bobby Lambert, which took place in a Texan supermarket car park. But apparently he was convicted on the strength of a single testimony.

There was no evidence, no other people were questioned and like his Florida counterpart, Larry Griffin, whose execution took place five years beforehand, nearly to the day, Graham had poor representation.

After all, what hope did he have? Graham was 21, had a mother who was mentally ill and was born into startlingly poor circumstances. Despite the undoubted love of a beleaguered family, his was a hard upbringing and he was to turn to petty crime. Sadly, that did indeed progress to armed robbery at the age of 20, but just a year later he found himself up for murder.

In the absence of a balanced trial, he was plonked on death row where he was to turn his misfortunes around. Far from wallowing in his sure fate, he set about reinventing himself – learning to read and write, even getting himself a law qualification. It was around this time that he changed his name to Shaka Sankofa.

Sankofa apologised to the victims of his petty crimes and robberies – all the crimes he’d readily admitted he committed. That just left the murder, for which he maintained his innocence to the end.

He even turned his attentions to spreading an anti-crime message, advising youngsters not to err from the path of law-abiding citizens. Indeed his plight gained the attentions of a veritable celeb-fest.

Reverend Jesse Jackson and Bianca Jagger were notables, but the most eloquent had to be Fidel Castro, who according to Wikipedia, said: ‘Shaka Sankofa has shown the world the bitter fruit of a social system where differences between the richest and the poorest are infinite and where individualism, egotism, consumerism, a generalized use of firearms and violence reign as a philosophical foundation.’

Ultimately his fate lay in the hands of the then Texan Governor – George ‘Dubya’ Bush. Let’s face it, Sankofa was stuffed – he didn’t have a hope. Bush unsurprisingly and ruthlessly stuck to his fatal guns all the way down the track. Nevertheless, the President-to-be felt the urge to justify his decision in the face of such compelling and overwhelming opposition.

But platitudes were useless when a man was about to lose his life, and with the words ‘they’re murdering me tonight’ playing on his lips, Sankofa took his last dying gulps of air before he succumbed to the lethal drugs.

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