Motion to continue McGraw murder trial denied

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Murder suspect Travis McGraw was escorted into the courtroom on Tuesday, May 20 for the judge to hear a motion to continue the trial in the 2011 murder of McGraw’s wife, Vanessa Mintz. Superior court judge Tommy Davis heard testimony from doctors regarding McGraw’s medication Tuesday morning and was expected to make a decision on the motion to continue the trial Tuesday afternoon. Visit for updates on McGraw’s trial this week. (photo by Leah Justice)

Murder suspect Travis McGraw was escorted into the courtroom on Tuesday, May 20 for the judge to hear a motion to continue the trial in the 2011 murder of McGraw’s wife, Vanessa Mintz. Superior court judge Tommy Davis heard testimony from doctors regarding McGraw’s medication Tuesday morning and later denied a motion to continue the trial. Jury selection was slated to begin Wednesday morning.  (photo by Leah Justice)

After three hours of testimony on Tuesday, May 20, Superior Court Judge Tommy Davis denied a motion to continue the trial of Travis McGraw, who is accused of killing his wife Vanessa Mintz in 2011.

McGraw’s trial was scheduled to begin on Monday, May 19 but prior to hearing the motion to continue, McGraw fell and hit his head on a bookshelf during an evaluation by a psychologist and had to be taken to the hospital. Davis revoked McGraw’s bond on Monday, with him being transported to the Transylvania County Jail following his release from St. Luke’s Hospital. Prior to Monday, McGraw had been released on bond since May 2013.

The motion to continue the trial included defense attorney Tony Dalton saying that he questioned McGraw’s competence and his ability to assist counsel during the trial due to pain and possible reactions with medications McGraw is prescribed. McGraw told the judge on Tuesday he has lower back and left leg pain and on a scale from one to 10 on Tuesday his pain was a 10. At one point the bailiff was asked to bring a trashcan to sit beside McGraw.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“Honestly, the pain is almost uncontrollable this morning,” McGraw told the judge. He later described the pain in his leg being as if his skin was being ripped off.

Davis asked McGraw if he knew what he was being charged with.

McGraw answered, “Yes, first degree murder.”

Davis asked McGraw if he understood the penalty.

McGraw said, “life in prison.”

When asked if he would be able to give any kind of assistance to his attorney during the trial, McGraw answered that he doesn’t know if he can do it. Davis reviewed a long list of medications asking McGraw when he last took them and when he first started with McGraw answering the doses of each medication and when he first began taking each. The VA hospital prescribed each one, according to McGraw.  McGraw’s medications include painkillers, non-narcotic pain inhibitors, blood pressure medication, allergy medicine, medication for vertigo and a muscle relaxer.

McGraw told the judge that his pain is constant but he has flare ups about once a month with the recent one beginning on Saturday. He went to the VA hospital Saturday night, then to Park Ridge Hospital early Monday morning, saying he went there because he couldn’t make it to the VA, then to St. Luke’s Hospital later Monday morning during court.

Davis asked if McGraw felt like he could participate in a trial.

“No,” McGraw answered. “I don’t feel like I can concentrate. I sit with my eyes closed and try to concentrate on my breathing to make the pain go away.”

Prosecutor Alex Bass asked McGraw if he mowed lawns for a living, asking how many lawns he mowed last week. McGraw said he mowed three lawns last week on a riding lawn mower that he can drive on and off a ramp.

Bass then asked if McGraw went on a camping trip recently with the Salvation Army about three hours away. McGraw said yes he did and participated in church services, watched sports activities, went to meals and stayed in a cabin.

“Your condition didn’t prevent you from going out to eat Sunday did it,” Bass asked McGraw.

“No sir,” McGraw answered.

Dalton said that Bass was asking about activities during a time McGraw was on pain medications. Part of the argument on Tuesday was that since McGraw was incarcerated Monday that his pain medications were not given by the jail nor had McGraw been seen by a medical doctor.

“Yesterday it was the pain medication and today it’s the lack of pain medication,” Davis said. “You can’t have it both ways.”

Testimony on Tuesday included from Dr. Pete Sansbury, a psychologist, who evaluated McGraw prior to court dates set in August 2013, January 2014 and in March 2014. Sansbury testified that as he continued to evaluate McGraw, he become more and more concerned about his capacity to proceed noting his difficulty in paying attention and his tendency to deny negative thoughts and only look at the “sunny side” of things.

Dr. Wilkie Wilson, a neuropharmacologist, who is also a professor at Duke University, also testified. He said some of McGraw’s medications could sedate or disorient him.

Sansbury said it would be helpful if he evaluated McGraw on Tuesday because of the change in circumstances that he was not on opiates since being in jail, so the judge allowed an evaluation during a lunch break.

Upon retaking the stand, Sansbury said McGraw scored low on two tests he performed so he performed a non-standardized test to determine his effort.

One test had to be stopped for some time, Sansbury said, to allow McGraw’s pain to pass with McGraw being in such pain he was crying. Sansbury said he was unable to form an opinion on whether or not McGraw is competent to stand trial, but did testify that in his opinion McGraw does understand the charges against him.

Dalton argued in closing arguments that McGraw has not seen anyone “in a white coat” since his bond was denied and is now facing the most critical couple of weeks in his life. He asked the judge to postpone the trial until his defendant could see a medical doctor.

Bass argued that the defense claims incompetence, but McGraw was able to detail information about medication he takes and just 10 days ago went on a camping trip.

Bass said McGraw mowed three yards last week and was at the hospital Saturday night but was out to eat on Sunday.

“Yet when he comes to court all of a sudden he can’t do anything,” Bass argued.

Davis denied the motion to continue saying the defense failed to convey McGraw’s burden to show he is not competent to stand trial and that while in custody he can be monitored by a nurse and the court will deal with any medical issues that may come up as the trial progresses.

Davis heard a few other motions and decided to rule on a motion from the defense to suppress cell phone records and tool markings on Wednesday morning.

A jury of 12 was scheduled to be selected beginning on Wednesday, May 21.