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Avondre Graham pleads guilty to killing Spokane woman

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 31, 2013, 3:37 p.m.

The young man accused of fatally stabbing a woman walking her dog last year along the Spokane River maintained his innocence Thursday but pleaded guilty to murder as part of a deal offered by prosecutors whose case against him was crumbling.

Avondre Graham, 18, will spend 10 years in prison for the killing of Sharlotte McGill.

He was sentenced by Spokane County Superior Court Judge Maryann C. Moreno today.

Graham has already spent more than a year in jail, and will be credited for time served.

Prosecutors charged Graham with second-degree murder, which has a maximum penalty of life in prison. Because Graham had no prior felony convictions, however, he was eligible for a sentencing range of 10 years to 18 years in prison, according to court documents. He entered an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to maintain their innocence while acknowledging that the evidence would likely secure a conviction at trial.

“Under the circumstances it is a sentence that Mr. Graham could live with,” said Tom Krzyminski, Graham’s public defender.

Attempts to reach Mark Cipolla, the deputy prosecuting attorney handling the case, and Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney Steven Tucker on Thursday afternoon were not immediately successful. During the 8:30 a.m. hearing, Cipolla said the sentencing suggestion, the minimum mandated under Washington state law for second-degree murder, was made based on Graham’s lack of criminal history and what he termed “evidentiary issues.”

Detectives originally said they’d received bad information in the case, and were unable to link Graham to McGill’s death until a second, unrelated attack that left a woman hurt.

Cipolla told Moreno he was aware McKinney was unhappy with the agreement. He said Tucker, who signed off on the bargain, “struggled for a couple weeks to come to this decision.”

McGill was able to give police a description of her attacker as she lay dying of multiple stab wounds in the arms of her daughter Billie McKinney.

Police once considered McKinney a suspect in her mother’s death, according to McKinney’s statement to the judge Thursday.

“I keep having this nightmare that my mother stepped outside and never came back; she died covered in her own blood, and I held her helpless.

“The nightmare spirals out of control when I become the suspect in her death and all the while her killer roams free to stalk and attack again,” McKinney said. “There’s no way this can be real, and yet I cannot wake up. This is real. This is as real as it gets.”

Graham and McGill lived in the same apartment complex.

Graham was arrested four months after the attack following his alleged attack on another woman along the Centennial Trail that September, according to previous news reports. Although he was a juvenile at the time, he has been charged as an adult.

Court records show Graham admitted to stabbing McGill when he was interviewed by detectives.

Graham has not been tried in the second attack in which he faces charges of first-degree robbery, attempted first-degree assault and third-degree assault.

McKinney, told the court through a written statement read by her lawyer, Jeffry Finer, that she still talks to her mother every day. “I hope she can hear me. I tell her I’m so sorry I could not save her life. I try not to think about all the blood, but my last moments with her were covered in it. Every time I close my eyes, I see it.”

McKinney addressed Graham’s 10-year sentence in her statement: “The world is scary enough without thinking about the man that killed my mother out walking the city streets a few years from now. I’ll

have to move away. I cannot raise children here.” When she does have children of her own someday, she added, “They will know the punishment for her (McGill’s) murder was a brief stint in prison, leaving him free to do as he pleases while their grandmother never gets to come back.”

Mark Cipolla, deputy prosecutor in the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office, said Prosecutor Steve Tucker “struggled for a couple weeks to come to this decision” about the sentencing agreement.

Graham’s cousin, Janelle Stone, read a statement from the family in court today, saying Graham “has faults,” but is “trustworthy and loving. Avondre is very warm-hearted and funny. He is always making people laugh. He brings light into dark days.”

This story is developing and will be updated.


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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.