Man who said he was framed for murder dies; attorney looks to continue federal lawsuit

Published 3:20 pm Friday, October 6, 2023

By JUSTIN STORY, Bowling Green Daily News

A Todd County man who alleged in a lawsuit that police conspired to frame him for a murder and rape he did not commit has died, and his attorney has requested to keep his lawsuit active in federal court.

Attorney Amy Robinson Staples filed notice Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bowling Green that her client, Norman Graham, died July 9.

Staples represented Graham in a federal lawsuit filed in 2020 against Todd County, the late former Todd County Sheriff Laurin Morris and six Kentucky State Police investigators.

The lawsuit claims that the officers who investigated the 1980 murder of Graham’s girlfriend, Janice Kay Williams, worked to fabricate evidence against Graham and withheld information gathered during the investigation that pointed to other possible suspects.

Graham, who was 76 when he died, was tried twice. The first trial ended with a hung jury on the murder count in 1981 and the dismissal of the rape charge, but Graham was indicted on both charges in 2007 and a jury found him guilty on both counts the next year and Graham was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Graham was incarcerated for nine years, maintaining his innocence throughout, until 2016, when two women came forward to give sworn statements that they were playing outside Graham’s trailer on the night that Williams was killed and saw another man, Roy Wayne Dean, run from the area behind the trailer after they heard a woman scream from inside.

The two women were Dean’s sister and her cousin, and they later testified in open court.

A specially appointed judge in Todd Circuit Court heard from the women and other witnesses and overturned Graham’s conviction. The case against Graham was dismissed in 2019.

Dean is serving a life sentence after being convicted in a 1984 murder case from Todd County, and he has not been charged in Williams’ death.

In addition to providing notice of Graham’s death, Staples’ filing requests that Graham’s widow, Brenda Graham, be named as his personal representative in the ongoing lawsuit.

Staples said that Brenda Graham is preparing the paperwork in a Clarksville, Tenn., court to be named the administrator of her late husband’s estate.

The lawsuit alleges that the police investigating Williams’ death lacked probable cause to charge Graham with murder or rape and withheld information regarding two potential alternate suspects from prosecutors, Graham and his defense team ahead of his first trial.

The suit features claims of malicious prosecution, violation of Graham’s due process rights, fabrication of false evidence, supervisory liability, failure to intervene, conspiracy to deprive Graham’s constitutional rights, negligent supervision and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Graham, the suit said, cooperated with police, telling investigators he was out of town on the night of the his girlfriend’s murder and found Williams’ body upon returning home.

According to the lawsuit, no blood was found on Graham’s clothing from that night, or on a knife he was known to carry, nor was any blood or semen found on a jumpsuit belonging to Williams that was found near her body.

The lawsuit claimed that Graham eventually consented to a “hypnotist interrogation” and provided a semen sample that was later planted on the jumpsuit and identified during forensic analysis.

All claims against Morris and the late Steven Silfies, a Kentucky State Police officer, were dismissed last year after U.S. District Court Chief Judge Greg Stivers ruled that claims of malicious prosecution could not be brought against defendants who have died and that, since the estates of both men were not open at the time of the lawsuit, the statute of limitations had run out for Graham to sue them.

Morris died in 2013, while Silfies died in 2017.

The remaining defendants in the lawsuit are Todd County, former KSP officers Robert Miller, Scott Smith and A. Bell and the estates of former KSP officers Vernon Albro and Larry Bollinger.

The defendants have denied all claims of wrongdoing, with attorneys for the KSP officers saying in court filings that the officers acted in good faith, in accordance with the law and without wrongful intent or malice.