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Ketch 22: Who Killed the Grahams? : AND THE SEA WILL TELL, By Vincent Bugliosi with Bruce B. Henderson (W. W. Norton: $22.95; 574 pp.)

February 17, 1991|Dan Byrne | Byrne, a former news editor at The Times, has sailed single-handedly to Hawaii and around the world. He publishes Alone, an international newsletter on solo sailing

The prosecution argued that four minus two equals two. Former Los Angeles prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi argued for the defense that four minus two equal one. The jury went with Bugliosi's arithmetic.

The verdict ended a murder trial, but not the mystery that began on Oct. 28, 1974, when a beautiful wooden ketch sailed into Honolulu with two persons on board. The trouble was that they were the wrong two persons.

The ketch, which was immediately recognized despite a new paint job and name on its stern, was the Sea Wind, owned by Malcolm (Mac) Graham III, 43, and his wife Eleanor (Muff) Graham, 42, of San Diego.

The couple on board, however, were Jennifer Lynn Jenkins, 28, and Buck Duane Walker 36, a former San Quentin inmate who was using the alias of Roy Allen to avoid arrest on drug charges.

When the Coast Guard and the FBI came to question them about their presence on the Grahams' boat, they ran. Jenkins was arrested cowering in the lobby of a hotel; Walker was arrested days later on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Their story was that the Grahams had died in August when a dinghy capsized in the shark-filled waters of Palmyra atoll, about 1,000 miles south of Hawaii. They said they planned eventually to return the boat to Mac Graham's sister.

Federal authorities immediately left for Palmyra, a U.S. possession, to find the Grahams or their bodies. They found no trace of them.

With no evidence of murder, a U.S. Attorney in 1975 prosecuted Jenkins and Walker in Honolulu for the theft of the Sea Wind. A federal jury found them guilty. Both were sentenced to prison, although Walker's conviction (Jenkins and he were tried separately) later was reversed on a technicality.

This first time, the prosecution's math had held. Four people were on Palmyra; two returned, not aboard their own boat but on the other pair's boat; hence two were guilty of theft.

And that's where the case stood for six years.

Then, in January, 1981, another cruising couple were exploring the remote Palmyra atoll. They were Sharon and Robert Jordan, from Johannesburg, South Africa.

One day , while Sharon was exploring the island, she noticed something gleaming in the sand and went to investigate. It was a gold-capped tooth in a skull. Nearby were other human bones, an aluminum box with its lid nearby and strands of wire presumably used the secure the lid. The skull and the box showed signs of fire.

As forensic study would later show, Sharon Jordan had discovered the remains of Muff Graham.

In short order, a federal grand jury in Honolulu indicted Jenkins and Walker for the murder of Eleanor Graham. (No trace of Mac Graham has ever been found.)

Enter Vincent Bugliosi, the tough, hard-nosed former prosecutor of the Manson family, for the defense--of Jennifer Jenkins. And thus begins the heart of the book, a riveting courtroom drama.

Bugliosi arrived on the case to discover he had a surprising co-counsel, Leonard Weinglass, "one of the most respected trial lawyers for the political left in America." His cases included defenses in the Chicago Seven and Pentagon Papers cases.

Very shortly, the anti-capital-punishment defense attorney and the former murder-case prosecutor found mutual respect, establishing a relationship in which Weinglass' low-keyed style balanced Bugliosi's aggressive, almost belligerent courtroom manner.

Bugliosi reports he had another perplexing surprise in store: the attitude of his client. Jenkins appeared from the beginning strangely detached from her defense.

She assured Bugliosi of her innocence, but more often than not during the years of preparation for her trial, she was unavailable for strategy meetings. Now a successful Los Angeles-area sales executive with little vestige of her '70s flower-child life style, Jenkins kept seeking postponements of such get-togethers on grounds of being too busy or too tired.

A frustrated Bugliosi early on gave her a yellow pad and asked her to list everything favorable and unfavorable to her case. Nothing ever was written on the pad.

Nevertheless, the defense came out fighting. It won a long battle to get the trial venue changed to San Francisco on grounds of the extraordinary and sometimes sensational media coverage given the story over the years in Hawaii. (A defense survey of 205 registered voters showed that 91% had read about the case, and of those who had an opinion, 95.8% believed that both Walker and Jenkins were guilty of murder.)

In a barrage of pretrial motions, the government's indictment was attacked and the defense successfully argued against any reference to Jenkins' boat-theft conviction during the trial, despite Assistant U.S. Attorney Elliot Enoki's contention that the theft was intimately linked to the murder charge and thus was admissible.

Jenkins and Walker were tried separately. Walker went first, was convicted and sentenced to life. He refused to testify at Jenkins' trial.

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