Shaka Sankofa : biography
Shaka Sankofa (born Gary Lee Graham) (September 5, 1963 – June 22, 2000) was a Texas death-row inmate who was sentenced to death at the age of 18 for the murder of fifty-three year-old Bobby Grant Lambert in Houston, Texas on May 13, 1981. Despite his claims of innocence, he was executed by lethal injection at 8:49 pm on Thursday, June 22, 2000 in Huntsville, Texas, aged 36.
Lambert's murder occurred at night in the parking lot of a Safeway supermarket. Although he denied committing the murder he admitted that at the time of Lambert's death he was on a week-long spree of armed robberies, assaults, attempted murders and one rape. He was captured after a 57-year-old woman he had kidnapped, raped and tortured gained control of his gun and held it on him. She then called police.
Sankofa maintained his innocence of Lambert's murder from the time of his arrest and throughout the nineteen years he spent on death row. He pled guilty to armed robbery charges.
Sankofa's supporters, including Coretta Scott King, bishop Desmond Tutu, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and celebrities Danny Glover, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie, Harry Belafonte and Ruby Dee, brought his case international attention, arguing that his conviction was based on the claim that the testimony of a single eyewitness who said she saw him for a few seconds in the dark parking lot committing the murder. The witness contradicts this claim, stating she saw his face three times over the course of 2–3 minutes as she followed him from the crime scene. She was one of 19 witnesses to identify Graham during a crime spree which included 20 armed robberies, 3 kidnappings, 1 rape, and 3 attempted murders in addition to the Lambert murder.
The jury did not hear testimony from a few other apparent eyewitnesses who believed that Sankofa was not the killer because they believed he was too short to be the killer. They did not see his face. No other suspects were questioned and there was a lack of physical evidence. Supporters also argued that there was other crucial evidence the jury did not hear and that he had poor legal representation at the time of his trial.
At the time of his execution, Sankofa became the twenty-third inmate executed in Texas during 2000 and the two-hundred and twenty-second person to be executed in Texas since capital punishment was resumed there in 1982.
In prison (Texas Department of Criminal Justice), Sankofa learned to read and write, earning his GED and paralegal certification. From the day of his arrest, he acknowledged portions of his week-long crime spree. For these crimes, he had served almost two decades in prison, apologizing verbally and in writing to the victims of these crimes and expending time and energy to get the message out to young people to turn their back on criminal conduct.
He became a political activist and in 1995 changed his name from Gary Lee Graham to Shaka Sankofa, because the name "Shaka" was chosen in honor of the great South African warrior Shaka Zulu, and "Sankofa" means to go back to the past and bring to the present, according to Rev. Herbert Daughtry of New York; the name also "represented linking the current struggle against capital punishment with the historical struggle Blacks have waged for freedom, justice and equality." He also co-founded a prison organization and newspaper, The Endeavor Project, which were devoted to abolishing the death penalty. By the end of his life, he had also written a soon-to-be-published book, The Evolution of Shaka Sankofa.
Sankofa was scheduled to be executed five times: once in 1987, three times in 1993 (April, in which Lambert's widow Loretta appealed to Governor Ann Richards to spare Sankofa's life; May and August), and once on January 11, 1999, and each time he was given a stay of execution before it was lifted.
Sankofa was put to death following a series of last minute legal maneuvers, including an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to halt the execution in a 5-4 vote. Sankofa's attorneys then filed a civil suit in federal court in Austin, Texas, charging the execution was a violation of his civil rights. District Court Judge James Nowlin rejected that claim.
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