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Reputed gang leader guilty on drug charges

POSTED: August 30, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Reputed gang leader Charles Douglas Graham took his chances twice before with a jury and won, including an acquittal in 2003 in a double murder case.

On Tuesday, Graham wasn’t as fortunate, as a Hall County jury convicted him on felony charges of sale of cocaine and the designer drug Ecstacy. It was the 22-year-old’s first felony conviction.

"The state is appreciative of the jury’s verdict that has resulted in this criminal being removed from the streets," District Attorney Lee Darragh said afterward. "We look forward to the sentencing hearing."

Graham faces a sentence of five to 30 years on each of three felony counts. He faced a possible life sentence when he was found not guilty in the 2002 drive-by shooting deaths of 17-year-old Mario Cavazco and 18-year-old Juan Zuniga. Authorities alleged that Graham, then 15, was the gunman in the shooting on Smallwood Road. Two codefendants were convicted in the shooting, including one who is serving a life sentence.

Since then, Graham, the reputed leader of the predominately Hispanic street gang BOE, or "Busting on Everyone," has had numerous run-ins with the law.

He pleaded guilty in 2004 to misdemeanor criminal trespass and simple battery and served more than a year in jail after violating the terms of his probation. He was accused of cracking a visitation room window at the jail but was acquitted of the felony by a jury in 2006. More recently, he served jail time after being caught in Gainesville in violation of a judge’s order banishing him from Hall County for the length of his probation.

But it was his acquittal in the double homicide that local law enforcement officials remembered most. Several were in the courtroom to hear Tuesday’s verdict announced after 90 minutes of jury deliberations.

According to court testimony, investigators with the Gainesville-Hall County Gang Task Force and Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad sent a paid informant to buy drugs from Graham on three occasions in June and July 2007. The 17-year-old informant wore a tiny camera concealed in a button which recorded the transactions. The video showed Graham accepting cash.

During Graham’s five-day trial, the informant, Christopher Rivera Sanchez, testified that the drugs Graham gave him were actually Sanchez’ own drugs. In a telephone conversation recorded by police, Sanchez is heard telling Graham where to find the drugs.

The jury didn’t believe the witness’ story, however.

"We just had the proof," a juror who did not want to be identified said afterward. "(Graham) definitely sold the drugs. He definitely took the money for the drugs. There was no question, really."

Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Burton prosecuted the case.

Graham’s defense attorney, public defender Craig Hickein, sought unsuccessfully to keep testimony about Graham’s gang connections out of the trial. Graham was never charged with a gang-related crime.

"We certainly appreciate the jury’s service," Hickein said afterward. "We appreciate the time and effort they put forth. We obviously have a different opinion about what happened in this case."

Graham’s alleged gang affiliations led one frightened juror to ask to be excused from the case when the trial resumed Monday after a four-day break. With three alternate jurors already hearing the case, Chief Superior Court Judge C. Andrew Fuller excused the juror.

After the verdict was delivered, Fuller asked spectators to remain in the courtroom until the jurors were gone from the building.

Fuller, who presided over Graham’s murder trial five years earlier, deferred sentencing to a later date.

Graham showed no emotion as the verdict was announced, blinking rapidly as he had done often throughout the trial. His mother, Joanna Gonzalez, slumped over the back of a courtroom bench and sobbed as family friends consoled her.

"My heart is breaking," Gonzalez said later. "I know my son, and there ain’t no justice."

One juror was alarmed at the youth of the defendant and the crimes for which he and other gang members had been accused. Sanchez, the informant, is serving a 15-year sentence for a drive-by shooting that occurred last year, when he was 17.

"It’s sickening," the juror said. "They’re just children. They have no idea what they’re doing."



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