Andrew Dys

Will teen killer in Chester get life in prison?

Graham
Graham

In June 2014, a 16-year-old kid named Shyheim Kennedy came home to visit the family that sent him away from Chester to escape the violence that plagued the small city’s streets.

He laughed a few days. He hugged those who loved him.

He ended up shot dead in the middle of a street, a block from the police station, over trash talking with other youth.

The convicted felon, a teenaged gang member, who shot Kennedy will find out Monday if he gets 30 years in prison or life without parole.

Or something in between.

Robert Isaiah Graham, 17 at the time of Kennedy’s slaying, will be portrayed Monday as a cold-blooded killer because he is one.

The sentence another 17-year-old received, in a killing just as brutal, where another teen set up a contract hit on his own grandmother, could come into play.

Graham is black. The teen serving 30 years in prison for hiring people to kill his grandmother is white.

Nobody has brought up race in any of the cases. Bullets know no color. Guns kill black and white the same.

But race is always part of life in South Carolina.

The courts are no different.

Both crimes, both deaths, are so awful. People were killed for nothing.

Black and white killers are equally violent. But will the criminal justice system treat these two confessed killers – convicted in the same county – with similar punishments?

Graham confessed once he was caught two days after the shooting in June 2014. He told the cops he was “going to prison anyway” because he was a parole absconder from a previous burglary conviction. Graham had been in so much trouble all his young life that he had been arrested as many as 18 times and was an admitted member of Chester’s notorious Roundtree Circle Gang.

Graham’s mother said after his arrest that she tried to get him help because he was violent and had mental problems, that he was bent on killing, but Graham accepted no help. There was some kind of argument in the street in June 2014 after Graham believed his gang, his buddies, were being talked about by others.

For being tired of another group “talking trash” about the gang, Graham shot Kennedy and killed him.

That is the same gang whose members are accused of murder and other crimes in the shooting death of Chester City Councilman Odell Williams.

Graham pleaded guilty in June 2015 but because he was just 17 at the time of the crime, special care and testing has to be put into sentencing. Medical and mental health experts who examined Graham are expected to testify Monday – both for and against him.

Graham’s lawyer, 6th Circuit Chief Public Defender Mike Lifsey, said he is going to ask for the minimum punishment for an adult for murder – 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors are seeking life in prison.

In January 2013, Clayton Eli Watts, 17 and white, hired a school friend to kill his grandmother. Watts, as cold and calculating as any Mafia gangster, put out a hit on the grandmother who raised him.

Watts offered a school chum $5,000 to kill the grandmother, named Jimmie Paul, because she disciplined him. She took his phone. She made him do the dishes and his homework. His response was to ask somebody to shoot her dead.

Jimmie Paul was ambushed by Watts and two others as she was walking into her home from work. She died on the kitchen floor, shot a bunch of times by the third man, recruited by Watts’ friend. Watts, so cold, sat in his room and waited for the cops to arrive and claimed initially to be asleep.

Watts and the two others in that crime – two black young men – all eventually confessed and pleaded guilty, and all received 30 years in prison.

Watts and Graham were both 17 years old when they plotted and committed these brutal killings in Chester County. The similarities or differences in their punishments remain to be seen.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065

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