An ex-con who robbed a Lake Forest bank just four months following his parole from a murder conviction was sentenced Friday to more than 44 more years in prison.
Chandler Emile Graham, 54, was sentenced to 44 years and four months in prison by Orange County Superior Court Judge Jonathan Fish. It was nearly the maximum punishment.
Graham pleaded with the judge to “forgive” him and take it easy on him in his sentence because he was “forced” to commit the bank robbery when other convicts, who knew he had been a snitch in prison, threatened to kill him if he didn’t pay them $50,000.
Graham, who was an Army veteran, said he was motivated by patriotism to inform on prisoners radicalized by terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas.
Graham said his parole plan included staying in a program for veterans in San Diego, but the state, instead, sent him to a halfway house with hundreds of other parolees.
Graham killed 66-year-old Tore Johanson — who was celebrating his retirement — in a head-on vehicle crash in La Habra during a high-speed police pursuit on Aug. 26, 1994.
Graham was convicted in April 1995 of second-degree murder and sentenced that June to 15 years to life in prison.
Graham already was on parole when he killed Johanson, according to prison officials and court records. He was locked up in 1990 for vehicle theft and grand theft, and, in May 1992, pleaded guilty to a felony count of unlawful possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor count of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
While in prison for murder, Graham began informing on “Islamic extremists,” and when his cover was blown he was taken out of general population for the last five years of his sentence, he said.
Graham said he also testified for prosecutors in a death penalty case in exchange for a promise they would not oppose his parole, but the District Attorney’s Office tried to block his release every time he went before a parole board.
“So I don’t trust the District Attorney’s Office,” Graham said.
When Graham was placed in a halfway house in Los Angeles he said many of the other men there recognized him as an informant.
“They knew who I was, they knew my name,” he said. “They came in and said this is the dude who told on everyone. They said if I didn’t give them $50,000 they would murder me.”
So Graham robbed the Eagle Community Credit Union at 23021 Lake Center Drive on Sept. 21, 2015.
A credit union employee walking back to work from a lunch break saw Graham — before the robbery — parking the car he used in the stickup in the credit union’s “red zone,” according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Chrisopoulos.
The defendant was “putting on a disguise” of a wig, a black hat and a bandana and sunglasses, the prosecutor said.
The credit union employee’s suspicions were aroused, and he took photos of the car and its license plate before the robbery, Chrisopoulos said.
Minutes later, a sheriff’s deputy who ran the plate saw the vehicle had been stolen out of Los Angeles and surmised, correctly, that the robber would make his getaway via the northbound Santa Ana (5) Freeway, Chrisopoulos said. The deputy quickly spotted the car in question and the chase was on, the prosecutor said.
The pursuit ended near Red Hill Avenue and El Camino Real in Tustin when the getaway car lost a wheel, the prosecutor said.
Graham reached speeds up to 115 mph in the chase, Chrisopoulos said.
Graham acknowledged that the alleged threats to him did not amount to a legal defense in his case and accepted the jury’s conviction.
“Your honor, first of all, I apologize to the people of Orange County,” Graham said.
–City News Service
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