Man charged in 1980 murder case
After more than a year of investigative work, authorities have made an arrest in a murder case that happened at a trailer park in Phil Campbell 33 years ago.
According to Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver, John Donald Smith, 64, Russellville, was indicted for murder in the death of 28-year-old Larry Graham, of Phil Campbell, in February of 1980.
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said the indictment was returned by a recent grand jury.
According to Oliver, the case was not pursued when the murder originally occurred because of the lack of information or witnesses who could have come forward with information.
However, the case was re-opened in February of 2012 after Graham’s family members told sheriff’s investigators they had some new information that they wanted checked out.
“During the investigation, we gathered enough evidence to link John Donald Smith to the killing of Larry Graham,” Oliver said.
“We found several witnesses and a few of them stated they had heard Smith confess to the murder. One witness said he even saw Smith leaving the residence that night with the knife used to kill Mr. Graham.
“We presented all the evidence we had gathered to the grand jury who determined there was enough information to indict him on the charges, and he was arrested on the indictment when it was returned.”
Oliver said the indictment was served on Smith at the Franklin County Jail, where he has been in custody on separate sex abuse charges since January of 2012.
According to Oliver, the original incident occurred on Feb. 16, 1980, at a trailer park on Franklin 13 in Phil Campbell.
Oliver said Phil Campbell resident Melvin Rickard, who has since deceased, came to a trailer where Graham was visiting a friend.
Oliver said Rickard came to the trailer to confront Graham about a disagreement they had and a fight started between Graham and Rickard.
Oliver said during the course of the investigation, they determined that Smith was also allegedly at the residence during this time.
Oliver said when Graham was on top of Rickard during the fight, Smith allegedly came up behind Graham and cut his throat, killing him.
“This is what we have determined to have happened during this incident,” Oliver said.
“The Department of Forensic Sciences has also confirmed this version of events based on the trajectory of the wound from crime scene photos that we have.”
Oliver said he appreciated the work investigators put in on this cold case.
“I want to thank our investigators for their dedication to this case and for the excellent job they did,” Oliver said.
“Hopefully this will start to bring some closure to the victim’s family who has had to deal with this unsolved case for over 30 years.”
Rushing said the case should be placed on the May 2 arraignment docket and could be placed on the criminal trial docket as early as June.
“It’s hard to describe how hard it is for a law enforcement agency to re-open a case that is over 30 years old and actually be able to turn it into a prosecutable case,” Rushing said.
“Many of the witnesses could have died, events aren’t as fresh in people’s minds, and many other problems can come up in a case of this type.
“I just want to commend the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and specifically Inv. Jason Holcomb, for the excellent job they did in this case.”