Jury convicts robber of pregnant woman in Pacific Beach
by NEAL PUTNAM
Published - 03/25/19 - 10:06 AM | 2804 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
After deliberating for 1 hour and 45 minutes, a jury on March 22 convicted James Lee Graham of robbing a pregnant woman and burglarizing her Pacific Beach home in December 2017.

The seven-man, five-woman jury also found Graham guilty of committing false imprisonment upon Carolina Souza and resisting arrest in the Dec. 14, 2017, incident at 9 p.m. at the Cedar Shore Apartments at 2150 Pacific Beach Drive.

"They obviously considered the evidence," said Deputy District Attorney Lucille Yturralde afterwards.

Graham, 41, appeared disappointed with the verdict. San Diego Superior Court Judge Robert O'Neill set sentencing for April 26, and Graham remains in jail without bail.

Yturralde said Graham faces a maximum sentence of 55 years to life in prison as a "three strike" defendant, having been convicted of 10 robberies in 2008. O'Neill looked at court documents after the verdict and determined the 2008 convictions were valid.

Yturralde said Graham faces 25 years to life for the robbery plus 25 years for the residential burglary.  She said he could also receive a consecutive 5-year term for having a prior felony conviction.

Jurors did not stick around to talk to attorneys afterwards.

Graham's girlfriend, Stephanie Nicole Majsterski, 25, pleaded guilty to all charges as well as auto theft in escaping the scene in a San Diego Police car. She drove it to Fiesta Island and into the water. The police car was tracked to Fiesta Island, where she was arrested.  She was sentenced Sept. 28 to five years in prison.

Souza testified her husband had left the front door unlocked while he went to do laundry on another floor. She said she told Graham and Majsterski to take whatever they wanted and believed Graham had a knife.  The pair took her wallet, her husband's cell phone, documents, and several laptops. Police found the wallet, cell phone, and laptops in bushes, but the documents and credit cards were not recovered.

Graham testified he had been drinking vodka and used methamphetamine and heroin before the incident. He said he did not remember walking into the apartment or taking property from Souza.

"I don't know any of that. I was smashed," said Graham. "It's not OK to take anyone's items."

Graham said earlier that day he hung out with Anthony Silva, who used to live in the Cedar Shore Apartments, but was only with him in his truck in a parking lot. Silva testified that Graham was drunk at the time.

Graham told the jury that methamphetamine "levels me out" when he is feeling "jittery." Graham acknowledged to the jury he had been convicted of robberies in 2008 and went to prison. When defendants testify, their prior record often comes out in court.

Graham said in 2008 he "owed people money for drugs," so he and his girlfriend got a BB gun and held up people. He said he owed money "to some pretty dangerous people." He said he met Majsterski, a college student, at Fiesta Island in 2017.

His attorney, Denis Lainez, argued to jurors that he did not have the specific intent to commit robbery or burglary because of his impairment at the time. Lainez said Graham had bipolar disorder. Lainez said the incident with Souza only lasted approximately 30 seconds to a minute. He said no weapon was recovered when Graham was arrested. 

Lainez had argued for acquittal for robbery and burglary, saying Graham lacked the intent to steal and did not have the mental state to commit robbery.  He said Graham made no threats.  Lainez said police did not do a blood draw of Graham to determine if he had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol that night.

Graham claimed he testified about 18 years ago in court about a robber with a gun who held up a woman in Ocean Beach. Graham said he tackled the robber and put him in a chokehold before throwing his gun in the street. He could not recall the name of the robber or female prosecutor and did not know the year in which it happened. He said he thought he testified between 2000 to 2003, but both his attorney and the prosecutor said they could not find a record of that incident without more information. 

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