Man sentenced to life in prison for murder

Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2003 at 10:08 p.m.
Relatives of a Gainesville woman, burned to death three years ago, had angry words Tuesday for the man sentenced to life in prison Tuesday for her murder.
The cousin of Annette Graham, 47, spoke at Christopher Allen Beckham's sentencing at the Alachua County Courthouse.
"A person who would be so cruel has no business even coming back," Graham's cousin Carolyn Legree said, speaking out against a lighter sentence for Beckham, her voice rising as she gave her victim's impact statement. "He'll only do it again."
Graham's body was found burning in a field behind the Sprint Food Store near 2300 E. University Ave. on Jan. 7, 2000. A tire had been placed around her neck and set on fire. Investigators said she was missing her clothes, rings and money.
Beckham, 25, of Gainesville, began arguing with Legree as she told the court he deserved a life sentence instead of 30 years in prison.
He quieted quickly as bailiffs moved forward. He later made his own statement in court where he asserted his innocence in spite of a December jury conviction for second-degree murder.
"I understand their anger or whatever. They're mad. They've got a right to be mad, but they're mad with the wrong one," he said.
Circuit Judge Martha Ann Lott ordered Beckham to serve a life sentence after listening to arguments from Assistant State Attorney Ralph Grabel. The prosecutor said Beckham's sentence should be enhanced since he had committed a new crime within three years of his release from prison.
Beckham had been convicted in other cases involving charges of battery of a law enforcement officer and theft, Grabel said. He was released from the Florida Department of Corrections in 1997.
Lott ruled Beckham should be designated a "prison releasee reoffender," state law mandating a life sentence.
Beckham's attorney John Stokes said his client will appeal.
At last year's trial, Stokes argued that investigators failed to follow-up on other leads in the case that might have exonerated his client. The prosecution told jurors Beckham wore blood-stained clothes that could be linked to Graham and that he had robbed the woman.
Lise Fisher can be reached at 374-5092 or

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