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Arrest in slaying of homeless man set afire

January 22, 2009 |  2:37 pm

Los Angeles police have arrested a man in connection with the gruesome killing of a homeless man who was set on fire last year.

The arrest caps a nearly four-month search for suspects in a killing that outraged the city.

Benjamin Mathew Martin, 30, was apprehended in Rancho Mirage today, said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck. Martin's alleged motivation for the killing, Beck said, appears to be "straight-up personal dislike and a little bit of crazy."

Authorities said they tied Martin to the murder through witnesses and forensic evidence collected at the crime scene. Beck declined to provide details about the evidence against Martin.

Beck said Martin had fled to Rancho Mirage apparently because of the intense media scrutiny on the case.

John Robert McGraham was set on fire Oct. 9 with gasoline. 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.

Those around 3rd and Berendo streets fed him daily and provided him with clothing. When he was set afire, residents and shopkeepers rushed to extinguish the flames but were unable to save his life. Residents had run outside to find the man lying on his back in a nearby parking lot, his body still ablaze.

McGraham's clothes had been burned off, his face blackened and swollen, the tips of his clenched fingers sloughed off. The smell of gasoline hung in the air. Los Angeles police said the suspect had splashed gasoline on McGraham and set him on fire.

-- Joel Rubin

Photo: The memorial service for McGraham. Credit: Los Angeles Times