UPDATE: Source says Graf jury had reached verdict when he struck - KXXV-TV News Channel 25 - Central Texas News and Weather for Waco, Temple, Killeen |

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UPDATE: Source says Graf jury had reached verdict when he struck plea deal

MCLENNAN COUNTY, TX (KXXV) -

A courthouse source told News Channel 25 Tuesday night the jury had reached an agreement to convict Ed Graf Jr. on two counts of murder at almost the same moment he reached a plea deal to confess to the murders of his two stepsons. When the jury was about to announce they'd reached a verdict they were told Graf had struck a deal with prosecutors.     

He pled guilty to two counts of murder and was immediately sentenced to 60 years for each, running concurrently.                 

McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna says this outcome is actually better than a guilty verdict from the jury. "He still would have been able to say 'I'm a wrongfully convicted man'. Now he can't. He admitted to it, he killed those boys, he knows he did it and Clare Bradburn got to hear that today."

Graf would have been able to appeal a jury verdict, but that's not an option now.  He waived the right to appeal as part of the plea agreement. He was originally convicted in 1988 of setting the fire, but was given a new trial after experts raised questions about the testimony of fire investigators at his first trial.

Graf admitted to setting a backyard fire in 1986 that killed his two stepsons, Joby and Jason. Immediately after 54th District Court Judge Matt Johnson made the announcement about Tuesday's plea deal, Joby and Jason's mother took the stand.  Clare Bradburn said, "Jason and Joby trusted you and you turned on them like a venomous viper."

Graf has already served 28 years behind bars from the first conviction and will be eligible to apply for parole immediately.  But the state parole board has already denied setting him free, and legal experts say they may do the same thing again taking his admission of murder into consideration.

“We are extremely pleased with the result in this case.  For the first time in 28 years, Clare Bradburn has finally had her longtime suspicions confirmed with Ed Graf, Jr.'s admission that he did in fact kill Joby and Jason. I'd like to commend the hard work of First Assistant Michael Jarrett, Chief of Crimes Against Children Division Hilary LaBorde and Investigator Jason Chambers for bringing this case together. Today, long awaited justice has finally been achieved for the family of Joby and Jason Graf.  May those boys now rest in peace,” said Abel Reyna, McLennan County Criminal District Attorney, in a statement.

Graf's attorneys were also surprised by their client's decision to plead guilty.  Defense attorney Walter Reaves said, "I can't say I'm happy about it but I think we made the best we could of this situation and he made the decision that he thought was best for him and his family." 

The judge sent jurors home after more than six hours of deliberations Monday, with instructions to return to court Tuesday morning.

During that time, the jury sent three notes to the judge.  First they wanted to know how many jurors it takes to reach a unanimous verdict. Then they said they were stuck at 10 to 2 and needed help.  The judge told them to keep working.  Finally, they asked to have some testimony from the trial read back to them.

The state and defense both gave jurors a lot to think about Monday.  During closing arguments, prosecuting attorneys told the jury they don't need to know how Graf got the boys in the shed or how he started the fire in order to find him guilty. 

District Attorney Abel Reyna said, "We do know Ed Graf set that fire. How he pulled this off, there's only four that know.  Two of them he killed, one of them is sitting here and the other he has yet to meet."

But the defense maintained that the fire was nothing more than a tragic accident started by a pair of rambunctious kids. 

Defense attorney Walter Reaves said, "Two boys lost their life that day.  Ed Graf lost two adopted sons, subsequently lost his only child, his marriage. Twenty eight years later, we are now here to give him his life back."
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