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    Girl, 9, coolly recounts attack

    Asked if her assailant was in the courtroom, the 9-year-old points to the sexual battery suspect and says, "Right there.''

    By KATHRYN WEXLER

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000


    TAMPA -- Her captor and molester had ordered her out of his pickup truck, the 9-year-old victim told the jury Wednesday.

    Crying, she walked across the parking lot and headed to freedom: the Kash n' Karry grocery store straight ahead.

    But she stopped short of the doors because of a sign: Shirt and shoes required.

    She was still clad in a blue bikini she had worn hours earlier to a poolside birthday party for her third-grade classmate.

    The first day of testimony in the trial of Brian Christopher Graham began with the child's recollections of June 12, 1999, the day she said a man abused her "private area," the only words she knew to describe it.

    "He opened (the car door) and he showed me his private and he said, touch it, and I said no and he grabbed me," she calmly recounted, stealing glances at Graham, sitting at the defense table in a pinstripe suit. "I yelled and screamed."

    The girl, dry-eyed and collected, was dwarfed by the witness stand. When asked if she saw her assailant in the courtroom, she jabbed her finger in the air.

    "Right there," she said, pointing at Graham.

    At the end of the long day, jurors heard Graham's voice, halting and through sobs, as he confessed to his wife by telephone from the Temple Terrace police station the night he was arrested, one week after the abduction.

    "Something just clicked," Graham tells his wife of four years, Felicia Graham, through labored breathing. "I'll tell you the truth, I did take her and I did touch her."

    Graham had no idea the conversation was being recorded, officers testified. In fact, detectives said, Graham had insisted they turn off a tape recorder before he admitted taking the child to a hotel parking lot and sexually assaulting her.

    Police said Graham, a furniture store employee and cross-dresser, told them he became infatuated with the girl when he saw her that day at Alessi's Bakery. He said he followed her mother's Toyota 4Runner around the corner to Nature's Harvest health food store on N MacDill Avenue, where he snatched her.

    The girl's mother told the jury she thought she had seen a man wearing a black lacy bra and sitting in a vehicle parked next to her at Alessi's.

    The girl remembered her attacker's bad breath and bushy eyebrows, Yaratch said, as she was ordered to remove her bathing suit and put on a purple skirt. He had placed a black bra over her eyes while he assaulted her on the front seat of the pickup truck, which she recalled as blue.

    In fact, Graham's vehicle was red, a contradiction the defense pointed out.

    Fibers from the girl's bikini matched those found in Graham's truck, one FDLE officer testified. But a nurse told the jury there was no evidence from an examination of the girl that she had been molested, though scratch marks gave her story credibility.

    Defense attorneys tried to cast doubt on whether officers were fair during the four or five hours they questioned Graham.

    Assistant Public Defender Ursula Richardson repeatedly asked if her client was given any drinks or bathroom breaks. Officers said Graham declined their offers.

    Richardson continually mentioned that Graham was arrested at home, with a beer in his hand and no shoes on his feet, suggesting his judgment may have been impaired and that he may have felt physically vulnerable.

    She sharply cross-examined Tampa police Detective John Yaratch, who was heard on tape lecturing Graham about the pain he had caused the girl and evidence he said he had against him. Yaratch admitted they had not been able to lift the girl's fingerprint from Graham's truck, and witnesses gave only a partial tag number.

    "You laid it on thick?" Richardson asked.

    "If you'd like to think that, yes," answered Yaratch, an 18-year police veteran.

    Temple Terrace police Detective Michael Collins acknowledged that Graham called his wife during a break in questioning, but only after Collins had prompted him to do so several times.

    Collins said he told Graham it was important that his wife learn of the charges from Graham rather than the news media. The real hope, Collins said, was to trick Graham into a taped confession.

    "You never advised him he'd be on a recorded line and you never advised him something like this could be used against him in court?" Richardson asked Collins.

    "That is correct," Collins said. "He had been advised before."

    The jury of seven women and one man sat riveted through much of the testimony. A few stared at Graham with furrowed brows.

    Mrs. Graham smiled easily at prosecutor Mike Sinacore as he questioned her about the taped conversation. She intimated she had no inkling of her husband's penchant for wearing skirts and bras.

    "He had an interest in women's clothing," she said. "I didn't know he had an interest in wearing them."

    - Kathryn Wexler can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or wexler@sptimes.com.

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