A Marion County circuit judge on Wednesday sentenced Manuel Elisha North, 48, to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of murdering Herman Graham III in October 2020.
North hurled racist slurs at Graham, a Black man, and tried to run him off the road before shooting him in a road rage incident near Interstate 5 in east Salem, according to a motion filed by Marion County Deputy District Attorney Katie Suver.
The jury found North guilty of second-degree murder and not guilty of first-degree bias crime on May 27.
Marion County Circuit Judge Courtland Geyer sentenced North on Wednesday to life in prison. He must serve at least 25 years until he is eligible for post-prison supervision, which he would be under for the rest of his life if released.
North must also pay $6,815 in restitution, court records showed. Geyer on Oct. 20, 2021 dismissed an unlawful use of a weapon charge in the same case, according to a judgement of dismissal.
On Oct. 26, 2020, Salem police responded to multiple 911 calls reporting a shooting at 3350 Pipebend Pl. N.E., where they found Graham lying unconscious with a handgun in the street near him and a white BMW sedan parked nearby, according to Suver’s motion filed March 1, 2021.
North made unsolicited statements to police and earlier to 911 that he acted in self-defense, the court filing said. North said that Graham had “pulled a gun” and attempted to carjack him. Police also found a .50 caliber handgun lying in the street behind North’s Volkswagen Golf wagon, according to the filing. It’s not clear from the filing if other weapons were found and if Graham was armed.
Suver’s filing said the confrontation began when Graham turned west onto Southeast Mission Street from the freeway off ramp. North honked his horn, yelled at the passengers, pulled up next to them and veered toward the vehicle, possibly because Graham had cut him off.
North cursed at Graham and called him a racist slur. One passenger told investigators North yelled, “the KKK is gonna come get you.” North continued following Graham and yelling racially derogatory statements. Graham “brake checked” North who was closely following behind him.
One woman who was a passenger in the BMW driven by Graham told police that Graham eventually pulled off onto Northeast Pipebend Place, where North pulled in behind him and both men got out of their vehicles.
The woman said she heard two loud booms, looked up and saw Graham laying on the ground through the rearview mirror. She immediately got out of the car, yelling and walking toward North.
North yelled at her to get back before kicking a black revolver that had been on the ground an inch or two from Graham’s feet, according to her statement to police.
The filing also included a statement from a man who was a passenger in North’s vehicle. The passenger said the driver of a white BMW cut in front of North, continued driving recklessly and yelled at North before turning onto a side street, prompting North to follow him and pull over to see “what was the matter.”
The passenger said the driver of the BMW stepped out, walked aggressively toward North and raised his right arm, pointing a black pistol at him. He said he heard one gunshot and saw it hit the driver of the BMW, who started retreating while pointing the gun at North and collapsed. North kicked the driver’s gun away from him.
The prosecutor’s motion asked the court to admit as evidence North’s previous criminal and traffic offenses in Lane County, some involving road rage. He has previously been convicted of careless driving, unsafe passing on the left, fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, hit-and-run and reckless endangerment.
One of Graham’s sister’s, Khristy Lewis, said that growing up, he was a big brother and father figure she could count on.
“I came here with a heavy heart,” she said at North’s sentencing hearing. “It’s nobody’s right to take anybody’s life at any time.”
Lewis said she didn’t wish any pain on North but prayed that “his heart changes” and he understands the pain he caused by taking Graham’s life.
“If he was a friend or he just knew of you, he was there for you,” said Kimberly Lawson, Graham’s other sister.
Lawson, speaking virtually at the hearing, said they had previously planned for him to visit her in Dallas.
“But instead the next time I saw him, he was in a casket,” she said.
She added that North had shown no remorse during court proceedings.
“All you had to do was turn left, sir,” she told North. “I don’t hate you, I don’t wish no bad upon you. I can’t afford to hold any more pain in my heart,” she said.
Lasonya Sedore, who said she and Graham had been “best friends” for over 30 years, also questioned why North didn’t just drive the other way.
He left behind three sons, she said, and each time she sees one of them he asks where his dad is.
“You made a choice to take a life,” she said, to which North shook his head.
He gave the same response when Geyer asked if he would like to say anything before his sentencing.
Geyer said witnesses in a previous road rage incident involving North testified in his recent trial stating they were still frightened by the incident and that what happened to Graham may have happened to them.
“There were just so many opportunities for you to have maybe learned a different way of conducting yourself on the road,” Geyer told North before sentencing him.
Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.
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