After proclaiming for 26 years that he was wrongfully convicted, Edward E. Graf Jr. admitted Tuesday he killed his two adopted stepsons.
His admission lifted a weight from the shoulders of his ex-wife, who cried quietly in court after waiting almost three decades to hear those words.
Graf, 62, was sentenced to 60 years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of murder in the 1986 deaths of the boys in a shed fire behind Graf’s Hewitt home.
A 54th State District Court jury that deliberated almost 11 hours and earlier told the judge it was deadlocked reached an identical verdict at the same time that Graf was admitting guilt in the deaths of Jason Graf, 8, and Joby Graf, 9.
A courtroom deputy was on his way to tell Judge Matt Johnson the jury had reached a verdict, but the plea proceedings already were underway, and the judge was not told of the verdict until after Graf was led from the courtroom.
Graf, who has been eligible for parole since 2008, will waive appeal, be given credit for the 26 years he has been incarcerated and retain his immediate parole eligibility.
For Clare Bradburn, the boys’ mother, Graf’s admission is something she said she has been waiting on for 28 years. In a victim-impact statement after the sentencing, she asked Graf how he dared to act as executioner of the two young boys.
“I have God’s peace knowing that you will be judged in heaven one day,” she said.
Bradburn’s son with Graf, who was born Edward E. Graf III but changed his name to Jacob Bradburn when he turned 15, angrily told Graf that he is not a father or a man.
“May God have mercy on your soul because no one on this Earth should,” he said.
Graf’s decision to accept the plea offer took the verdict from the jury’s hands, although jurors also found him guilty of two counts of murder.
A juror who asked to remain anonymous said the jury of six men and six women was unable to break the 10-2 stalemate and convict Graf of capital murder, which the 10 favored.
She said one of the holdouts, both women, wasn’t convinced that Graf was totally broke and could not be persuaded that Graf killed the boys to cash in on life insurance policies he bought a month before their deaths.
As a result, jurors finally agreed instead to convict Graf of murder, she said.
Jurors took a vote as soon as they entered the jury room, she said, and the vote was 10-2 to convict Graf of capital murder.
“The two women said they felt like the rest of us were pressuring them, but they could not come up with one specific thing that made them feel he was not guilty,” the juror said.
One of the two jurors who initially was adamant that Graf was not guilty cried all the way from the courtroom back to the jury room after the judge released them, the juror said. She said she was relieved after finding out that Graf pleaded guilty to murder, the same charge for which the jury would have convicted him.
“I was also relieved to find out he finally admitted to the family that he did it,” the juror said.
She said all but the two holdout jurors figured out quickly that Graf had been tried before, although attorneys and the judge made considerable efforts not to refer to Graf’s previous trial.
“We asked them where they thought he had been all this time,” the juror said. “It was pretty obvious to most of us.”
She said she is not concerned that Graf could be released soon, depending on the actions of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
The juror said District Attorney Abel Reyna visited with jurors after the 12-day trial and said his office would oppose parole for Graf. Reyna also assured them, she said, that the parole board likely would not view Graf favorably soon since he spent the last 26 years professing his innocence and then pleaded guilty.
Reyna, who helped try the case, commended the work of prosecutors Michael Jarrett and Hilary LaBorde and DA’s office investigator Jason Chambers for their work on the case.
“We are extremely pleased with the result in this case,” Reyna said. “For the first time in 28 years, Clare Bradburn has finally had her longtime suspicions confirmed with Ed Graf Jr.’s admission that he did, in fact, kill Joby and Jason. Today, long-awaited justice has finally been achieved for the family of Joby and Jason Graf. May those boys now rest in peace.”
One of Graf’s attorneys, Walter M. Reaves Jr., said Graf’s decision to accept the plea offer was surprising to him since he has professed his innocence from the start. He said he thinks Graf did what he decided was in his best interest, which was to accept the plea bargain knowing he is eligible for parole.
Graf was sentenced to life in prison after his first trial in 1988. He served 25 years in prison before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed his case and awarded him a new trial based on flawed fire science testimony.