A serial road-rager was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Black motorist in Salem, Oregon. A jury found him guilty after his case fell apart in court, including the bombshell revelation of a witness that originally said he was a hitchhiker, but was later discovered to be his son.
On Wednesday, June 1, Marion County Judge Courtland Geyer sentenced Manuel Elisha North to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years, one week after a Marion County jury found him guilty of the 2020 murder of Herman Leslie Graham III.
According to the Statesman Journal, after six days of jury selection, a trial, and a jury verdict, the man was convicted of second-degree murder, but not the first-degree bias crime charge he was indicted with.
Witnesses of the traffic altercation, who were riding in the same car as the victim, recalled the Monday, Oct. 26, 2020, shooting. They said North used racially violent language toward Graham after he was cut off while the two cars were driving, before fatally shooting him.
One of the women in Graham’s BMW said she first noticed North’s car when they were turning west onto Mission Street SE from the Interstate 5 offramp.
Police noted, after responding to multiple 911 calls, Jane Doe 1 did not actually see what happened but believes the driver of the car she was in cut off North on the expressway.
She did hear North honking his horn afterward and yelling bigoted slurs at Graham. The woman also recalled the white man in his Volkswagen raging toward the car she was in as if to run the vehicle off the road.
Court records stated another witness, a female, said the 48-year-old yelled “F— you” and “You’re nothing but a n—– and the KKK is gonna come to get you,” during the altercation.
The first witness added North continued to follow them and hurl “derogatory statements” toward Graham and decided to stop near Pipebend Place NE in the hopes to deescalate the problem.
That was in vain.
“I’m gonna pull over and hopefully he’ll go away and maybe he’ll pull in,” Graham allegedly said.
The witness says as the two cars parked, the men exited their vehicles and met at a point. She remembers scrolling through her phone, but hearing “two loud booms.” Her friend had been shot. She looked up and glanced in the luxury car’s rearview mirror and noticed Graham lying on the ground in blood.
She immediately jumped out of the car to confront the man, who still had the firearm in his hand. He warned her to go back. She stopped in fear.
By the time she approached to aid Graham, she witnessed North kick a .50 caliber handgun on the ground near Graham’s feet. Officers found it during their initial crime scene investigation.
The other passenger said he “heard one gunshot and saw it hit the driver of the BMW.”
An autopsy report confirmed Graham, 48, died from being shot multiple times.
When law enforcement arrived on the scene, North claimed self-defense. He said Graham “pulled a gun” and attempted to carjack him.
He then provided them with a litany of biographical information — none that checked out cleanly once pressed by the prosecution during the trial.
According to police reports, he said he owned a construction company called CAD Northwest but when members of the Salem Police Department reached out via the number listed for the business, they were transferred to a different company who said they purchased the company North claimed to own.
The new parent company also did not have an office in Eugene where the man is from, nor did they have a record of North currently being employed by them, which would be a key piece of evidence for the prosecution.
North told the police that he had pulled over into Pipebend Place NE on his way to the pipe warehouse, in the area of the shooting to pick up supplies for a construction job he was hired to perform.
Just as the company had no record of him working for them, the business did not have an account with the North’s alleged company’s name. Without the name, it was difficult for North to prove his story of buying supplies for a job that the company that owns his old company has no record of.
The passenger in North’s car told officers he witnessed Graham driving aggressively and that North was acting in self-defense. His credibility was also shot, as he told the SPD he was a hitchhiker, picked up by North. Later it was revealed that the passenger was actually related to North, his adult son.
In an extraordinary twist, the son gave a different report to the police than he did in his grand jury testimony, causing a motion to be submitted by the Marion County District Attorney’s Office to address the discrepancy.
Lastly, information that was damaging was North’s road rage history. The prosecutors wanted to include as evidence a list of charges to paint a picture of his habitual violent behavior on the road, including criminal and traffic offenses in Lane County and other counties.
Defense lawyer John Kolego argued that his client’s history should have been suppressed because it would be “unfairly prejudicial” to North.
However, Marion County Judge Courtland Geyer permitted the evidence, ranging from 2015 and 2018, to be included in the trial, and supported the prosecution’s petition for a conviction.
In reviewing the evidence, including testimony from two other victims of North’s temper (one from 2015 and the other from 2018), the judge said, “They were still so frightened by what happened. It struck me that they were frightened that exactly what had happened to Mr. Graham might have happened to them.”
Geyer also stated North’s action shows a pattern and Graham’s death was totally avoidable.
After the conviction, Deputy District Attorney Matthew Kemmy asked for a sentence of life with a minimum of 25 years, with no eligibility for alternative programming, and the judge honored his request.
Kolego conceded to the mandatory minimum and did not ask for a lesser sentence. North will be eligible for parole in 25 years, approximately in the late 2040s.