WOONSOCKET – Seventeen years after his conviction in the road rage killing of another man with a powerful crossbow, Donald Graham is seeking a new trial with help from a friend in Alaska who has written a book about him.
Now 73, Graham is serving life without parole in the 1994 slaying of 42-year-old Michael Blodgett on the shoulder of I-95 in Attleboro, near the state line.
Appellate attorney Patricia Quintilian of Williamsburg, Mass., has filed a motion for a new trial in Bristol County Superior Court on grounds that the jury selection phase of Graham’s trial was improperly closed to the public.
“Jury selection is considered a material part of the trial,” Quintilian told The Call. “When the judge closed it, Mr. Graham’s rights were violated.”
Quintilian said state prosecutors have been instructed to reply to the motion by June 21 and that she hopes to get a hearing by August.
She said Graham has tried for a new trial on at least two occasions previously on various grounds, including incompetent legal representation, but this is the first time he’s raised the issue of jury selection.
A specialist in appellate law, Quintilian declined to say who is paying her fee, but Dave Brown, a Woonsocket native who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska, has made no secret of his interest in Graham’s case.
Last year, Brown published “Deacon’s Crossbow,” a book about the high-profile killing in which he posits that Graham’s first-degree murder conviction was a miscarriage of justice. The conviction, which means Graham acted with premeditation when he shot Blodgett, opened the door for the trial justice to send Graham to prison for life, without the possibility of parole.
Brown is a longtime friend of Graham, who used to work as a deacon at the First Baptist Church in Woonsocket. Brown met him some two decades ago, when the church was a client of Brown’s city-based insurance agency.
“The day my friend, Don Graham was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life without parole, I slipped into a state of shock,” Brown wrote in an afterword to the book. “Ten years later I decided to take action; ‘Deacon’s Crossbow’ is the end result.”
The book won the Alaska Writers Guild's 2012 Writer's Achievement Award and has gone into a second printing.
Though Graham’s notoriety has faded, at the time of Blodgett’s murder, the grisly killing turned him into the poster child for a distinct type of criminal violence that was just then coming to be viewed as a phenomenon – road rage. At one point, Graham was interviewed by former CBS anchorman Dan Rather for the newsmagazine “48 Hours” on national TV.
The confrontation that changed Graham’s life – and ended Blodgett’s – took place on the night of Feb. 20, 1994, when Graham and his late wife Sandra, a onetime secretary at Woonsocket High School, were returning home from dance lessons in Canton, Mass. As they were driving through Attleboro, Graham saw something on the highway that offended him: another motorist flashing his high-beams at a car traveling in front of him.
During the trial, Graham testified that the discourteous behavior prompted him to give the headlight-flashing driver “a taste of his own medicine,” so he began pursuing the offending driver with his high beams on.
Graham claimed he grew frightened when trash was thrown at his vehicle from Blodgett’s car and Blodgett twice attempted to force a rear-end collision by slamming on his brakes suddenly, all in the midst of highway-speed traffic. When Blodgett pulled over to the shoulder, however, Graham did the same. He could have continued on, but he was too frightened to do so because, he testified, it might have given Blodgett the opportunity the follow him.
As the two cars stood motionless on the shoulder, about 100 feet apart, Blodgett and another man began walking towards Graham’s vehicle carrying a flashlight. Graham went to the trunk of his car, where he grabbed a crossbow and loaded it with a special tip, or bolt, designed to cause maximum tissue damage in big game.
“By this time, both men were within striking distance of each other,” Quintilian’s court papers say. “Mr. Graham, while backing up, shouted for the men to ‘Hold it, stop right there.’ He requested them to stop two more times to no avail. The victim grabbed for the bow and it fired.”
The bolt struck Blodgett in the chest. He died later of massive internal hemorrhaging at Sturdy Memorial Hospital in Attleboro.
Graham has spent much of his time in prison at the Souza Baranawski Detection Center in Shirley, Mass., a high security facility that’s home to some of the state’s most notorious serial killers, child molesters and rapists. Quintilian said she has visited Graham there many times.
She said she’s heard him described as an edgy, tightly-wound individual, but that’s not the Graham she knows.
“He’s been in prison 17 years now. He’s not that person anymore,” she says. “He’s in his 70s. He has trouble hearing. He’s mellow. He’s very mellow.”