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L.A. man who set beloved homeless man on fire with flare pleads guilty to murder

March 30, 2010 |  6:33 am


A man accused of setting a beloved homeless man on fire two years ago has pleaded guilty to the crimes, prosecutors say.  Ben Matthew Martin, 31, pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree murder, torture and arson causing great bodily injury to John McGraham.

Authorities said Martin, a onetime barber, poured gasoline on the homeless man and then used a road flare to set him on fire.

L.A. police arrested Martin in Riverside County. He was connected to the 2008 slaying in the Mid-Wilshire area by eyewitnesses and DNA at the scene of the crime. Martin left a red plastic gasoline can behind at 3rd and Berendo streets.

Authorities said the motive was unclear, but sources said the unemployed barber had previously voiced his dislike of the homeless in the area.

McGraham was a well-known fixture in the neighborhood.

McGraham, 55, who once worked nearby as a bellman at the Ambassador Hotel, suffered from depression. For two decades, he repeatedly spurned efforts of family members and others to remove him from the streets and obtain treatment for him.

But those living and working in the densely populated, diverse neighborhood around 3rd and Berendo streets fed him daily and provided him with clothing.

More than 300 people attended his memorial.

-- Shelby Grad

Photo: Mourners at John McGraham's funeral in October of 2008.