EL PASO, Texas — A 30-year-old former Marine on trial for allegedly shooting and killing two Fort Bliss soldiers outside of a Central El Paso nightclub last year may have done so in self-defense after a third soldier began firing his weapon into the air.
But prosecutors said Craig Allen Graham, who is charged with capital murder in the deaths of Army privates Damien Bailey and Preston Brown, argued during opening statements Monday that Graham could have "walked away" from a confrontation that began inside the Fussion nightclub on Dyer Street.
If convicted, Graham faces life in prison. His trial began Monday morning in the 384th District Court.
Assistant District Attorney Denise Butterworth told the jury of seven women and six men, including an alternate juror, that Graham was with one of two groups of people who were involved in a confrontation inside the club. The confrontation apparently began over a woman.
Butterworth told jurors members of both groups were kicked out, but were allowed back inside after pleading with the club's bouncers. Members of the group spent the rest of the night staring each other down, and after the club closed at 2 a.m. on Jan. 15, 2012, Tyrone Head, a Fort Bliss soldier, went to a vehicle, grabbed a gun and began firing into the air.
In response, Graham, who allegedly told a friend he was going to beat up members of the other group, fired his own weapon, aiming at the group Head was with. Bailey and Brown, who were innocent bystanders, were struck, Butterworth told the jury.
Brown died at the scene, and Bailey died about a week later at William Beaumont Army Medical Center.
During the defense's opening statement, Graham's attorney Tom Hughes told jurors Graham, a former Marine who was medically discharged after a motorcycle crash, was at the club but not with a group.
"The evidence is going to show you Craig Graham was in the Fussion nightclub minding his own business," Hughes told jurors.
Hughes also said two friends of Head were being "drunk and disrespectful" towards a woman at the club that night. After the club closed, Head and his group were "looking for trouble," and Head fired his weapon.
Graham returned fire "out of fear for his safety" when Head aimed and fired once at Graham, Hughes told jurors. Head was struck in the torso during the shooting but recovered from his injury.
Head, who was originally charged with murder, was acquitted during a jury trial in February. He may testify at Graham's trial and was seen outside the courtroom Monday dressed in his Army uniform.
Police crime scene officers testified they found six .45-caliber bullet casings in the club's parking lot, and 10 .40-caliber bullet casings on Tyler Street, across the street from the club, where Head stood as he fired his weapon.
One crime scene officer testified she was called back to the scene on Jan. 16, 2012, after the club's owner found another .45-caliber casing near the club. However, Hughes pointed out that the casing was found after police cleared the scene, allowing the public to have free access.
Before Graham's trial began late Monday morning, a woman who participated in jury selection last week told 384th District Judge Patrick Garcia that she overhead a juror selected to preside over Graham's trial say Graham deserved to "fry for what he did to our soldiers."
After Garcia questioned each juror about their fairness, he granted the defense's request to release the juror. Graham's trial is expected to continue this morning.