An ex-con was convicted Friday of robbing a bank in Lake Forest four months after being paroled in mid-May 2015 after serving years in prison on a second-degree murder conviction.
Chandler Emile Graham, 54, faces up to 48 years in prison when he is sentenced June 30, according to Senior Deputy District Attorney Paul Chrisopoulos.
Jurors convicted Graham of four counts of second-degree robbery, assault with a firearm, evading police, car theft and possession of a firearm by a felon, all felonies, along with finding true sentencing enhancements for the personal use of a gun.
Graham’s attorney argued against the gun use allegation, saying the defendant may have used a replica gun in the Sept. 21, 2015, holdup at the Eagle Community Credit Union at 23021 Lake Center Drive.
A stranded motorist on the Santa Ana (5) Freeway near the Tustin Marketplace found a revolver by the side of the road a week after the holdup that investigators believe Graham used in the robbery, Chrisopoulos said.
Authorities were not able to link Graham to the gun with DNA or fingerprints. Graham, who is seen on surveillance video brandishing a weapon, wore gloves in the stickup, the prosecutor said.
Graham’s maximum punishment would have been up to 28 years in prison if not for the gun enhancements, Chrisopoulos said.
“Even though it was 22 years from the murder to the robbery, it was the same sort of conduct immediately after the armed robbery,” the prosecutor said, referring to Graham leading a sheriff’s deputy on a high-speed pursuit.
“Testimony came out he was reaching speeds of 115 miles per hour on the freeway,” Chrisopoulos said. “Most people were surprised that a 1994 Buick could go that fast, and he was weaving in and out of traffic at … 10:45 a.m.”
Graham was granted parole over the objections of then-Senior Deputy District Attorney Mike Murray, who’s now an Orange County Superior Court judge. Murray argued then that Graham continued “to pose a significant risk of danger to society.”
In a letter to parole officials in December 2014, Murray said Graham “killed a completely innocent victim, Tore Johanson, a recently retired 66- year-old man,” on Aug. 26, 1994, in La Habra.
Graham was already 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.
Graham was convicted on April 25, 1995, of second-degree murder and was sentenced that June to 15 years to life in prison. An appellate panel affirmed his conviction and the state Supreme Court in 1997 declined Graham’s request for a review of his case.
According to Murray, Graham “had been drinking and abusing drugs” before causing the head-on collision that killed Johanson.
“When a police officer attempted to pull him over, Graham sped away and led officers on an extremely dangerous high-speed chase,” Murray wrote. “Graham ultimately drove his car head-on into Mr. Johanson’s car, killing him and seriously injuring his wife.”
The pursuit ended with a four-car pileup at La Habra Boulevard and Monte Vista Avenue. The car Graham was driving ended up crashing at the steps of a city fire station.
A “very aware” credit union employee walking back to work from a nearby McDonald’s saw Graham — before the robbery — parking the car he used in the stickup in the credit union’s “red zone,” Chrisopoulos said. 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.
— City News Service
>> Want to read more stories like this? Get our Free Daily Newsletters Here!Follow us: