Connecticut court rejects New Haven man’s appeal in hiking trail murder case

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 gotten an appeal, according to a decision to be released on Tuesday.

The Connecticut Court of Appeals’ preliminary opinion, posted online Friday, agrees with the decision to deny James Graham’s appeal in the case. Graham was convicted of murder, criminal conspiracy to commit first-degree robbery and carrying a weapon without a license.

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 “allied groups” “Read Street” and “Starr Block”, according to court documents. Benton was a member of a rival group in Hamden.

Coleman told the other two they should rob Benton, depending on the ruling. He approached Benton and asked if he was in the other group. Benton then punched Coleman in the face.

According to court documents, Coleman pulled out his gun to shoot Benton, but the gun jammed. Graham then pulled out his own gun and shot Benton in the head. The three took money from Benton, as well as his cell phone and clothes.

Graham’s arguments in his appeal involve two statements made, including one from Moye, which named him as the shooter. The state court ruled that Moye’s testimony was permitted and that the state did not abuse its discretion because in testifying against Graham, Moye was also admitting to involvement 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 dressed in black emerged from the woods and began shooting at the group. Those statements, according to the ruling, were “inconsistent with his behavior on the surveillance video and were at sharp variance” from other testimony.

In his appeal, Graham said the prosecutor used a ‘general accommodation’ argument, rather than a specific argument when the prosecutor said that because Graham had testified at the end of his trial, he could change his testimony. to match the evidence.

In his closing statements, the prosecutor showed video footage of the three men before and after the shooting. The prosecutor pointed out to the jury that the men were not ducking as if they were being shot, and said they had “their hands in their pockets, jogging as if trying to get away of a crime scene”.

The appeal argues that generic adaptation arguments violate the Sixth Amendment’s right to confrontation. However, the state appeals court wrote that the United States Supreme Court had ruled that the personalization arguments were constitutional. The prosecution and state court are also noting referenced videos, GPS recordings, and other testimony in their closing arguments.

Graham faced up to 85 years in prison when convicted. Oral arguments in his appeal were heard in February.