FINDLAY - An angel he was not, but a savior he most certainly was the night a 13-year-old Findlay girl was beaten, tortured, and left for dead, Nathan Graham told a Hancock County jury yesterday.
In two hours of nearly uninterrupted testimony, Graham, 23, described the events of Feb. 12 and 13, 1999, in painstaking detail. He told the jury over and over that he was out of the Allen County jail on bond at the time and not interested in getting into trouble.
Graham has been portrayed by prosecutors as the ringleader in the girl's night of terror. Graham testified that at the Tiffin Avenue party where the assault began, he tried to protect the girl whom he had never met from the onslaught of blows and kicks. Later, at his rural Rawson farm, he said he was only trying to scare her into not going to the police, not to harm her.
“I didn't want to see [the girl] hurt. I didn't want to see [the girl] killed,” he said.
Despite conflicting testimony from others who were present for the night's events, Graham said he stopped at the party briefly around 7 p.m. but did not return until nearly 1:30 a.m. He said he had no idea why some of the partygoers began assaulting the girl, and that he only made it appear he was participating in the assault.
He said he was in fact holding her up against a wall by a dog collar around her neck so that others would not walk by and kick her.
“When I had a hold of her, nobody hit her,” Graham said.
He said under cross-examination that he had to make it look like he was going along with the others.
“When you've got a group of people beating someone, you don't want to look like the person who's trying to assist the person getting beat or you could be the next victim,” Graham explained.
He admitted he yanked the dog collar around the girl's neck hard enough to break the collar, but said that was his intention: to get the collar off her neck.
When another partygoer, Christopher Knight, subsequently put a beaded chain around her neck, Graham said he removed it and threw it up the stairs.
Under cross-examination, Hancock County Prosecutor Bob Fry pressed him on that point, asking how he removed the chain and discarded it when he did not want anyone to think he was helping the girl.
“Explain it,” Mr. Fry demanded. “You can't have it both ways, Nate.”
Graham said he was in fact trying to help her.
Graham, who has been representing himself at his trial in Common Pleas Court, testified he was unaware Philip Cramer and others from the party had tied the girl up, placed her in the trunk of a borrowed car, and driven her to his farm.
When they arrived, though, and Cramer told him she was in the trunk, he helped get the girl out of the car and soon devised a plan to “scare her up” so that she would not go to police. He said he threatened her with a knife, put an unloaded gun near her head and pulled the trigger, and threatened her life repeatedly if she went to police.
“She started crying. She started begging for her life, which was all part of my plan,” Graham said.
He said it was not him but Cramer who cut off one of her shirts with a machete and tried to cut off her pants. He said it was not him, but Cramer's girlfriend, Kathy Emmons, and his own girlfriend, Samantha Byerly, who ordered the girl to perform sex acts on herself.
He repeatedly said it was Cramer who wanted to kill the girl and even talked of cutting off her head and throwing her into the Blanchard River.
When Cramer was not satisfied that she would not go to authorities, Graham said he suggested placing her in a well out in a nearby woods where they could cover the opening and leave her. He said it was his intention all along to retrieve her, and said that is exactly what he did after Cramer and his friends left.
He said he carried her through the woods, gave her a warm sleeping bag to wrap up in, even made her soup and offered his cellular phone for her use when they got back to his house.
Throughout his testimony, Graham told the jury he is knowledgeable about weapons and explained that while he had taken one hit of LSD that day, it did not have a great effect on him because he was an “acid freak,” meaning someone who has consumed so much of the drug that it no longer caused him to have severe effects such as hallucinating.
Mr. Fry pointed out numerous inconsistencies in Graham's testimony, asking him whether some other witnesses may have been mistaken or lying on the stand.
“Which way is it?” he asked Graham repeatedly. Mr. Fry suggested that if Graham had been so interested in staying out of trouble so that he could leave the country and avoid prosecution on drug charges in Allen County, he should have walked away from Cramer's party at the first sign of trouble.
Before calling himself to the witness stand, Graham tried a second time to have Byerly testify on his behalf. Besides the young victim, who has not been called as a witness, Byerly was the only other person present when Graham allegedly rescued her from the drain pipe.
Byerly took the stand but said she couldn't answer any questions after Graham asked his first question.
Byerly is serving a 24-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges stemming from the February, 1999, assault and an unrelated incident in December, 1998. She has since filed a motion to have her conviction set aside because of ineffective legal counsel.