Courts Graves changes plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, released on bond | The Cullman Tribune


Graves changes plea to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, released on bond

James Graves / Cullman County Sheriff's Office

CULLMAN - Former Cullman County Commission Chairman James Graves, 74, of Vinemont, arrested and charged Wednesday, May 10 with felony first-degree sexual abuse of a minor, for which he was indicted on July 20, was arrested again Aug. 17, for tampering with a witness in the case. The Tribune has learned that prior to Graves turning himself in on Aug. 17, he changed his plea on the original sex charge from not guilty to not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.

The Aug. 17 complaint states that Graves attempted to induce a witness to “testify falsely or unlawfully withhold testimony, or absent himself from an official proceeding to which he has been legally summoned.”

According to the Cullman County Sheriff's Office (CCSO), an investigation by the CCSO led to the discovery that Graves made contact with someone related to the sex abuse case. At that point, a statement from the CCSO said, investigators contacted the Cullman County District Attorney’s Office and obtained a warrant of arrest for tampering with a witness. 

“I would like to thank our investigators for their prompt and immediate work in this case. We will also continue to coordinate with the Cullman County District Attorney's Office to work toward revoking the suspect's previous bond on his last charge," said Sheriff Matt Gentry.

Witness tampering is a class B misdemeanor, and Graves was booked into the Cullman County Detention Center Aug. 17 on a $6,000 bond. According to officials, Graves bonded out the same day. On the morning of Friday, Aug. 18, Cullman County Assistant District Attorney Jeffery H. Roberts filed a motion to revoke Graves's bond on the original charge, which, if approved, will lead to him being held in the Cullman County Detention Center until trial. Graves had been out on a $15,000 cash bond for his original arrest since May 12.

Mental defense

Following his indictment for the original charge, Graves pleaded not guilty and waived his right to an arraignment on July 26.  Before his re-arrest Aug. 17, his attorneys entered a motion which reads:

“The Defendant wishes to amend the previous plea entered of Not Guilty and enter into a Plea of Not Guilty by Reason of Mental Disease or Defect.”

The nature of the claimed condition was not specified.

Graves is being represented by attorneys Alex J. Chaney, Brandon C. Little and Jonny V. Berry.

Judges recused, case reassigned

Judge Gregory Nicholas, who was to preside over Graves's arraignment hearing, recused himself from the case, along with local judges Martha Williams, Kim Chaney and Rusty Turner. The judges noted in their recusal orders that Graves is well known to the court, as a former county official, and that they wished “to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”  The Cullman judges requested Acting Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Lyn Stuart assign the case to another judge.  On Aug. 11, retired Madison County Circuit Court Judge Sterling A. Watson, Jr. was assigned to take charge of the case.

The original arrest

According to the CCSO, Graves allegedly sexually molested a minor on more than one occasion. A statement from the CCSO said the victim came forward after the last incident took place, in which the suspect allegedly forced the victim to perform a sexual act.

When Graves was interviewed by investigators, he allegedly confirmed the allegations were true. The CCSO says that following that interview, "there was no doubt a sexual crime had been committed by the suspect."

Due to the graphic nature of the crime, no further details are being released by the CCSO.

“The protection of our young people is one of our most important responsibilities as law enforcement officers. As soon as the victim came forward our investigators interviewed the suspect and we obtained a warrant after consulting with the DA’s office due to the evidence being so overwhelming against the suspect,” said Sheriff Matt Gentry on the day of the arrest. “I would like to thank our investigators for their prompt and immediate work in this case."

Later that same day, the Cullman County Republican Party announced that its executive committee voted to remove James Graves from its ranks.

County GOP Chairman Waid Harbison released the following statement at that time:

“We are saddened to have to take action to remove James Graves from the Cullman County Republican Party Executive Committee. James has been a strong community leader in the past, and we are all surprised at the recent developments; however, his actions do not reflect the morals or beliefs of the Republican party on a local or national level. The committee moved today to ensure that we protect strong, conservative principles, and to do what was right for the local party. We will always stand up and advocate for what is right, even if it means standing up to someone within our own party.”

Graves was elected chairman of the Cullman County Commission in 2008 and served until he was defeated by current Chairman Kenneth Walker in 2012.

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