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


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.

Comments () | Archives (19)

this is by far the saddest thing i have ever read.
god bless your soul john mcgraham.

What was the "deal" that the District Attorney's office used to obtain this guilty plea? This killing was such an extraordinary act of vicious cruelty that probably no punishment save execution could begin to equal the crime.

What makes this killing all the more baffling is that the killer didn't live in the area but rather made his home in Orange county.

There is not a severe, cruel enough punishment for this guy. Public execution would be a start though. What has our world come to?

It's nice to see that people cared about him. This is so cruel, people need to stop treating homeless people like animals. Like this man, many of them suffer from mental disabilities. Very sad story.

The perpetrator has to be crazy, by some definition. It's obvious that the deceased was a better man.

This guy should get life without parole, people always blame the innocent for their own personal troubles, Martin probably thought if he did this his life was going to be better, how insane.

SDMom, I would hope that decent people wouldn't treat animals this way either.

Please support AB 2706 (Violence Against the Homeless)by CA Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal. Acts of violence agaisnt the homeless should not be tolerated.

When I read the original story about the burning of this man after it happened, my feelings of outrage were intensified by the likelihood that the perp would get clean away. Thanks to DNA, eyewitnesses and good police work, they got this sad sack. Job very well done! Let's see a picture of him. Yep, death penalty would have been too good for him. Life in prison? I'll take that over him escaping with impunity.

Agreed this is such a disturbing story. No human being in his/her right mind would ever entertain the thought of setting ANY living being on fire--human or animal!

The level of sickness and completely sociopathic behavior that exists in our world today is far more frightening than any suicide bomber. When people become inured to violence, this is what we reap.

There is so little love in our world. Respect and reverence for life are not taught in our learning institutions. Children are forced oftentimes to raise themselves and what they become is frequently a barely functioning being with lifeskills and consciousness just a tad above a neanderthal.

This is not just a horrible, senseless murder of a harmless homeless man in Los Angeles, this is what we get when we insulate ourselves from our rapidly degenerating and unraveling moral fabric.

May he rest in peace. His murderer will not only answer here, but also when he accounts for his life before his Creator.

I don't think any hobo should be set on fire...however, since he's been a burden on society for 20+ years, the sentence should be greatly reduced...

I don't think any hobo should be set on fire...however, since he's been a burden on society for 20+ years, the sentence should be greatly reduced...

Posted by: TheBigPicture | March 30, 2010 at 01:35 PM

Let me be the first to tell you what a sorry excuse you are for a human being.

TheBigPicture sounds like TheBigAHole, how much have you burdened society, BigPicture? What cost does your life reap upon the world? Does sitting on a park bench emit pollution or destroy the ecosystem? Does a homeless person waste money on an image-obsessed culture of Jimmy Choo shoes and over-priced automobiles, massive homes with rooms that aren't even used, and the myriad similar pursuits of vacuous wealth spoils? Or is he riding the low to middle class train, trying to pretend he can keep up with the Joneses- shopping at Walmart and Target to buy goods that satisfy a material greed while it bolsters an internationalized job drain and resource depletion? How much burden is it to help a homeless person every day? I am sure you would never help, and as many calloused, empty souls similar to you also turn a blind eye, rest assured the burden is carried mostly by those of us who know better- that it is an honor to be able to help. You are connected to this man, and when (if?) your enlightenment ever surpasses your lack of compassion, you will feel like carrying a little more burden.

Unbelievable! He doesn't like the idea of homeless people in the area, so he sets fire to one. Now, stop and consider how thoroughly pre-meditated this action was: not many people I know, walk around with a gas can and a road flair.
Would he think it's okay if someone set him on fire for a bad haircut?

John Rest in Peace. Your friend, Charles with the 3 little dogs walking along Hollywood Blvd and Normandie around 2003

300 people turned out for this guy's funeral.
What a really moving show of love!
One bad apple does not spoil the whole bunch.
We need more bunches!!!!

How heinous is the perpetrator of this crime? If you want to help the homeless please volunteer or contribute to


Food on foot gives the homeless a solid program that allows them to get back into society. Please consider this wonderful org. FOF has been feeding homeless people for 733 consecutive Sundays.

TheBigPicture - People with your outlook are a far greater burden on society than any homeless person.

i am greatly disturbed by this occurrence and by "the big picture's" comment...thats is very dispicable and extremely inhumane on your behalf


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