A career criminal testified Tuesday that Edward E. Graf Jr. confessed to killing his two adopted stepsons by locking them in a shed and setting it on fire and said he should have done the same thing to his ex-wife and her sister.
Prosecutors Abel Reyna, Michael Jarrett and Hilary LaBorde rested their case against Graf on Tuesday.
They called 36 witnesses during the first six days of testimony and ended with Graf’s son, Jacob Bradburn, who said he changed his name from Edward E. Graf III when he was 15 because he wants nothing to do with his father.
Fernando Herrera, 38, who has used almost a dozen aliases during his lengthy criminal career and has been convicted at least 14 times, testified he and Graf became friends during a three-month stint in the same eight-man cell at the McLennan County Jail.
‘Sacrifice the kids’
He said he thinks Graf confided in him because Herrera kept Graf from getting beat up in jail. Herrera, who described Graf as a very intelligent, well-educated person who reads a lot, testified that Graf told him he was having financial and marital problems and intended to cash in on life insurance policies he bought on the boys — Jason, 8, and Joby, 9 — the month before their deaths.
“He said money was tight and he was willing to sacrifice the kids to get back on top financially,” Herrera said, adding Graf said he had to kill the boys before his wife, Clare, left him.
Herrera told jurors Graf said he should have done the same thing to his ex-wife and her sister, Peggy Gidney.
Graf told Herrera about his idea to bury both boys in the same casket because of their dire financial straits and recounted how his wife became upset at the suggestion and rejected the notion.
He described how Graf smiled when telling him how the volunteer firefighters, trying to spare the family’s feelings, offered to remove the shed after the fire that night and destroyed important evidence in doing so. He said the boys and a friend started a fire in a cup and were playing with matches and he planned to blame the fire on the boys, Herrera told the jury.
Graf said how lucky he was because the neighbors got there just after he unlocked the shed and opened it and they saw that the door was open while the fire was still raging, Herrera said.
Herrera said he asked Graf if he felt bad about killing the boys and Graf said, no, calling them “brats.”
“He said, ‘How could I? They continue to haunt me,’ ” Herrera testified.
Herrera said Graf seemed to seek some credit for making sure they died from smoke inhalation and not from burns.
Graf told Herrera that he used to work for an insurance company and studied how to detect arson fires. Graf told him he taped up threads attached to gasoline-soaked cotton balls to start the fire. The evidence was consumed and investigators were unable to detect the fire’s origin, he said.
Graf said he put the boys in the shed and made sure they were in there long enough to be asphyxiated by smoke before he opened the door so it would not appear to be locked, the inmate testified.
No deals offered
Herrera, who has felony convictions for burglary of a habitation and assaulting a police officer, has drug possession and theft charges pending against him. He said he was offered no deals in exchange for his testimony.
He told the jury he was testifying to relieve himself of the heavy burden Graf’s confession put on his shoulders and to bring justice for Jason and Joby.
He said Graf compared himself to O.J. Simpson and predicted they would not have enough evidence to convict him.
“He said, ‘If the glove don’t fit, you have to acquit,’ ” Herrera said.
He also said Graf used an expression he had not heard before, saying, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip.” But he said Graf added, “And in my case, you can’t get blood out of burned carcass.”
Under cross-examination from defense attorney Mark Dyer, Herrera said he was familiar with the term “jailhouse snitch.” He said he has worked with investigators and provided useful information in the past, a point corroborated later by McLennan County Sheriff’s Office jail investigator William Sustaita.
Dyer listed all the aliases Herrera has used before and highlighted his multiple convictions for giving police a false name and asked, “Who are you today?”
In a letter Herrera wrote to jail staff requesting psychological counseling, Dyer noted he said he was hearing voices that kept him awake at night.
Herrera explained that it was a “cry for help,” adding he also was having trouble controlling his anger and feared he would get in fights at the jail.
Throughout the trial, attorneys have been careful to obey a pretrial ruling from 54th State District Judge Matt Johnson to avoid any reference to Graf’s 1988 trial or the fact that he spent 25 years in prison serving a life sentence in the boys’ deaths.
But Dyer asked the judge if he could ask Herrera why Graf, after a quarter-century of proclaiming his innocence, would suddenly confide in a career criminal he barely knew and confess to killing the boys. Prosecutors objected and the judge disallowed the question.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals awarded Graf a new trial last year after ruling he was convicted on faulty fire science testimony.
In defense testimony Tuesday afternoon, one of Graf’s former neighbors, who was 14 at the time of the fire, testified that he saw Jason and Joby playing with matches on one occasion while they were playing in the neighborhood with him.
On cross-examination, he confessed that he, too, used to play with matches as a child but said he never burned anything down.
Defense testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday.