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Court employee arrested in missing evidence case

Huntsville Times (Alabama), LOCAL NEWS; Pg. 1A
BYLINE: Victoria Cumbow & Brian Lawson, Times Staff Writers

Madison County, AL

A veteran court reporter in Madison County Circuit Court has been arrested on charges stemming from missing evidence at the courthouse.

Shawn Graham was arrested last Thursday and charged with four felony counts of second-degree theft of property and five misdemeanor counts of interfering with judicial proceedings, according to the Madison County Sheriff's Office.

Presiding Circuit Court Judge Karen Hall stressed Wednesday that the evidence allegedly found in Graham's possession dates back some 10 years and is not related to any ongoing cases.

Graham, who has resigned his position, was a court reporter under Madison County District Judge Dennis O'Dell.

He had worked for recently retired Circuit Judge Loyd Little for 14 years.

A court reporter transcribes a trial record but also handles evidence introduced during trials and transports and preserves evidence in storage after trials.

The charges involve "inappropriate activity regarding the circuit court's evidence room," said sheriff's Investigator Chad Brooks.

"Shawn Graham is a fine man and he is a fine court reporter and I don't know a single attorney in town who doesn't like that guy," Graham's attorney Patrick Tuten said.

Hall said the problem that led to Graham's arrest was discovered during a cleanup of evidence rooms. The courthouse has some evidence dating back decades that had been the responsibility of now-retired court reporters, Hall said.

Each court reporter is responsible for evidence in the courtroom where he or she works, and each has an individual storage area that cannot be generally accessed. Evidence remains in their storage area if a case is not appealed. If a case is appealed, the evidence becomes the responsibility of the circuit clerk's office and is stored separately.

During the cleanup, the court reporters and the clerk's office worked together, Hall said. Last week, Circuit Clerk Jane Smith noticed some items missing from her storage area, and an investigation was requested. Graham was arrested a few days later.

Hall said the judges and courthouse staff who know Graham were saddened and shocked by the arrest.

"The evidence at the Madison County Courthouse is secure," Hall said. "Each room has its own separate lock, and the policies and procedures regarding access to those rooms have been revisited since Mr. Graham's arrest."

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