Thursday, April 23, 2009

Murder conviction stands; prosecutor lacked license


A prosecutor's lack of a valid law license isn't enough to overturn the murder conviction she won against a Minneapolis man in 2007, the state Supreme Court ruled in a decision released today.

The ruling went against Alonzo J. Graham, who was found guilty of first-degree murder in a trial prosecuted by Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Gemma Graham, who afterward was found to lack a current license.

The two Grahams are not related.

The jury convicted Alonzo Graham of first-degree murder while committing or attempting to commit aggravated robbery, in the death of Paris P. Furcron, 29, of Burnsville, who was shot several times at a house in the 3000 block of 5th Avenue S.

Durrell D. Bobo of Minneapolis also pled guilty in the case. Furcron took Bobo and Graham to a house to buy marijuana. Bobo told Graham to shoot the residents, but he shot Furcron instead. Graham argued that his conviction should be overturned in part because Gemma Graham's license had been restricted for 20 years for failing to get continuing legal education credits.

"We hold that convictions obtained by a prosecutor who was unlicensed to practice law at the time of the conviction should be set aside only when the defendant is able to show prejudice warranting reversal," Justice Paul Anderson wrote in the unanimous decision.

The court found no prosecutorial misconduct and said Alonzo Graham did not show prejudice.

The court condemned the prosecutor's failure to follow the rules but noted that licensing issues are handled in the attorney discipline process.

As part of that process, the Supreme Court in February 2008 reprimanded Gemma Graham and placed her on two-years' probation. She continues to work in County Attorney Mike Freeman's office.

Freeman said Graham also was disciplined by his office. He added that he agreed with the ruling. "There is nothing in that trial that Gemma Graham did wrong that would warrant reversal," he said.

Gemma Graham's licensing problem surfaced just before Alonzo Graham was to be sentenced. A defense motion for a mistrial was denied.

Alonzo Graham appealed his conviction on other grounds too, but the court rejected them.

Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747

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