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Life in prison without parole for barber who set homeless man on fire

A man who prosecutors said had a grudge against the homeless was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for killing a homeless man in the Mid-Wilshire area by setting him on fire with an emergency flare.

The murder committed by Ben Martin, 31, two years ago horrified the densely populated area where John McGraham was a well-liked figure and spotlighted the vulnerability of the homeless to violent attack.

BenMartin "My brother had a life -- he was a human being," Susanne McGraham Paisley, the victim's sister, told the court through sobs. "Even in a state of homelessness, he managed to touch so many lives."

Martin reportedly disliked homeless people lingering near the barber shop where he worked. A co-worker later told police he had seen Martin shout at the homeless to move away from the shop, sometimes striking out at them.

A customer said that he saw Martin on a separate occasion chasing McGraham down 3rd Street, hitting him with a bag of towels and kicking him in the back. The barber yelled, “I don’t want to see you around here again,” according to the customer. 

When the manager of the barber shop learned of the attack, Martin was fired. Three months later, prosecutors said, Martin returned to the area with revenge on his mind.

Carrying a bucket of gasoline and an emergency road flare, he found McGraham standing in the driveway of a parking lot. Martin soaked the homeless man with the gasoline, prosecutors said, then lighted the flare and set him on fire.

As Martin fled, passersby desperately tried to douse the flames, but McGraham, 55, was burned alive.

McGraham, 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. Those around 3rd and Berendo streets fed him daily and provided him with clothing.

Authorities said they tied Martin to the murder through witnesses and forensic evidence collected at the crime scene.

-- Jack Leonard at L.A. County Superior Court downtown

Upper photo: Ben Martin is led out of Los Angeles County Superior Court after being sentenced to life in prison in the slaying of John McGraham. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Lower photo: Martin during the sentencing hearing. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (26)

Although I'm fully aware of this attack , it stirs up anger in me each time I'm reminded of it. How can people be so cruel to each other. This Martin guy needs a little prison justice from the other inmates along with his life sentence.

It's so good to see these evil heartless killers paraded to prison one by one. Now I hope Mr Martin will enjoy the rest of his life in prison, because it's not going to be easy. I'm sure he'll look back on his actions and wish he hadn't did what he did to that helpless old man. When he's sitting in a 5x7 cell wishing he could go to the beach, or the park, or an amusement park, and have fun like us law abiding citizens enjoying our freedoom.


Why not get him HOUSING? If he wants treatment he'll ask for it....BUT WHY NO HOUSING; he had absolutely no history of trashing apartments, WHY IS TREATMENT BS A STIPULATION FOR HIM TO GET HOUSING?

So he had a dislike for homeless and his solution was to toss gas on the man and light him on fire. This man is an absolute animal. He has no soul, no heart. I hope he suffers when he dies the way the man he killed did.

Hopefully this will drive home, especially to teenagers, that abusing the helpless, in any form is not the way to go. If they think it's funny, try it one of their own first. No fun. And the last I heard, doing a good deed doesn't get you jail time. If anything, it'll make you feel good.

wouldn't setting this guy on fire be a better deterent to others? Why should the taxpayers have to pay for a lifetime of incarceration? For violent offenders where there is no risk of punishing the innocent, the death in kind method should be employed.

Good. This guy needs to be made an example of. Just because someone is homeless doesn't mean we will let someone of.

how did this act not warrant the death penalty?! he did this totally premeditated. it just makes me sick. I hope the previous poster is right...perhaps the other inmates will take care of him, give him what he deserves. piece of garbage!!!

I 100% totally agree with Avril.

OH MY GOD!!! I can't believe someone would have that much hate inside of them to do such a horrible thing. Why did this person not try to help him inside hurting him... and where was Mr McGrahams family????

Why is this man getting life????? Death Penalty should be the correct sentance

Condolences from Alberta, Canada to the family of John. I read the la times on a daily basis and when I read this story my heart felt heavy. Its a terrible shame that people are so heartless to one other. We had a homeless man beat to death here in Calgary a couple years ago and people were very upset. There have been a couple other incidences here where homeless people have been the target of mean people. I am glad to see justice served in this case. May Ben rot in jail for the rest of his pathetic life. Again, thoughts and prayers are with the family.

It's so scary, how many other psychopaths are out there, driving around, cutting hair, cleaning teeth, who are a hair trigger away from a horrific murder. What is wrong with these people? This filth should have been sentenced to die.

I'm so glad this man has been sentenced to spend a lifetime of leisure and uselessness, getting food, room and board at our expense. Why not the death penalty?

Oh,calm down. Justice is done. There is no such thing called "prison justice".

Calm down, dude. Justice is done.

This is a concern about the law; if he is "really" guilty. Apparently, no one saw the incident. These things are very emotional. Lots of people probably felt guilty because the man was out on the street and homeless.

But, did the man convicted REALLY later, months later, pour gasoline on him? If he did fine. But, too many times in courts the people, police and the judge get all emotional and want to make a conviction because it was so bad and they make if on evidence that points to him, but is not for sure.

As a result, many people in the U.S. legal system are convicted wrongly. Knowing this that is why I could never be for the death penalty. The courts are too biased for so many reasons. Especially the Santa Monica courts. Not sure where in what court this took place. It is better to let someone off, than to wrongly convict someone else just to say they have someone; that makes all of them the same an a murderer.

God Bless, Mr. Martin, he needs to ask God for forgiveness, and then pay his debt to society, if he goes to prison then he is the ONLY one who sent himself there, not the judge. What he did was so wicked, the homeless man, is with the Lord. We need to Pray for Mr. Martin, that he asks God to forgive him for this evil crime.

Why don't the liberals pay to keep this POS alive for the rest of their lives?

Viva Population Control! NOW!

obviously you guys don't know what its like to run a business:

Just Say'n

He deserves to go to jail for life, but I think he should have possibility of parole.

I think what people forget is that the homless are people too and probably come from a family whom may have once loved them or still do and for another human being to take their life away because it does not fit into their outlook or plan on how people should act in life is just not right they are people too. May God have mercy on your soul, McGraham may you rest in peace

I'm so glad this monster will be caged forever.

I always hate to break this to people, but I have worked in prisons for 12 years... and prison is rather nice and easy, the staff value their jobs enough to remain professional, and, in my years there, I have first hand knowledge of only 2 (i.e. victim states) rapes... and anecdotal 2nd hand accounts of only 3 others... It ain't like Hollywood wants you to think! They have satellite t.v., their own satellite t.v., store treats (canteen, conjugal visits, etc... lets put it like this.... I'd do time in California.

As a regular viewer of CSI, I feel I have authority to speak on the subject... I suspect carbon monoxide poising or if the fire is intense enough, breathing hot gas in your lungs causing blistering and then exfixiating. Probably not a pleasant expiernce.

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