KILLER OF COP'S SON GETS MAXIMUM TERM

JOHN CAHER Staff writer
Section: CAPITAL REGION,  Page: B1

Date: Friday, March 14, 1997

ALBANY -- As a New York City detective, Philip Hannah has seen more than his share of crime victims and their grieving families. Now he knows exactly how they feel.


Hannah, a strapping, square-jawed cop stared down and chewed out his son's killer Thursday, and then wept simultaneous tears of joy and grief as the murderer he labeled a cowardly punk was sentenced to the maximum term, 25 years to life. Jason Graham, 26, of Albany, fired a barrage of bullets into the detective's son, 18-year-old Demere Ray Hannah, gunning the teenager down in broad daylight outside the Arbor Hill Community Center on Aug. 22, 1995. Apparently, Graham and his nephew, Lee ``Jafar'' Johnson, 24, were seeking revenge over an earlier dispute involving a parking space.


Evidence showed that Hannah had an argument with Johnson, firing a shot into the air. A few days later, Johnson drove up alongside Hannah while Graham, riding shotgun, pumped several bullets into the teenager. Then Johnson backed the car up so his uncle could take some more shots.


Authorities found 14 shell casings at the site. Hannah was hit six times.


Johnson plea bargained to manslaughter in exchange for a more lenient sentence, but still received the maximum term.


The man largely responsible for breaking the case is a career felon named Wayne Blanchard, who is trying to turn his life around.


Blanchard, now serving a prison term for a parole violation, witnessed the murder. He eventually came forward after he was urged to do so by, of all people, the man he shot during a robbery 16 years ago: Gary Geiger of Albany. Geiger and Blanchard have become close friends.


But the drama of Blanchard's testimony during Graham's trial paled in comparison to the emotional electricity that permeated the air during sentencing.


Graham strutted cockily to the bench, seemingly prepared to make a statement. But after enduring a tongue-lashing from the victim's father, Assistant District Attorney Paul A. Clyne and Albany County Judge Thomas A. Breslin, the defendant decided to remain mum. His attorney, James Milstein, also declined comment.


``On Aug. 22, I saw a news report,'' began Philip Hannah, a large looming presence standing about eight feet from the wiry man who murdered his son.


``I saw my son, on a stretcher, looking up, shot, '' the father said in an even but harsh tone. ``I saw people all out on the streets. I saw kids, I saw school kids. I saw a schoolteacher, afraid, taking the kids inside. I wondered, who would commit such a cowardly act, like a punk, like a dog, shooting my son down like an animal?''


Hannah told the seemingly stunned defendant that he observed him carefully during the trial and concluded that the killer is both arrogant and remorseless.


``I want you to know you took my son's life,'' Hannah said. ``You robbed me of being his father. You robbed his family. You robbed his brothers and sisters. People's lives have been turned upside down. I have not been the same since this happened. Son . . . I just want you to know that every day I get up and I wonder why my son is not here. Now I want you to remember my son every day . . . I want you to remember his father.''


Clyne, a veteran prosecutor who has put several killers behind bars, called the Hannah execution an act of ``senseless, insane violence that occurred in broad daylight'' and in view of innocent children and passers-by. Clyne said that whatever the problem was between Demere Hannah and Lee Johnson, it could have been handled with a call to the police.


``Instead, this defendant chose to take matters into his own hands and deliver what he believed was his form of justice,'' Clyne said. ``Now it is time for this court to deliver the community's form of justice.''


Breslin insulted Graham as something less than a real man and told him he deserves to spend every day possible behind bars.


That suits the victim's mother, Felicia Calicutt of Albany just fine. Calicutt said the long prison sentence gives her more satisfaction than the death penalty.


``That would be too easy,'' Calicutt said of the death penalty, which was not applicable to this case. ``I want him to suffer. We've got to suffer and now he can suffer with us.''


Calicutt, her son's fiancee and other relatives cheered and clapped when the sentence was imposed.