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Juvenile Lifer Resentenced to At Least 45 Years in 1990 Slaying

November 28, 2017

Contact: Robert D. James, 215.348.6332, rdjames@buckscounty.org

Mark Graber
          Mark Graber

A Bristol Borough man serving life in prison for a murder he committed at age 16 was resentenced Monday to at least 45 years behind bars.

Mark Graber, 44, was repeating the ninth grade in February 1990 when he shot and killed 18-year-old Shane Reilly on Corson Street in Bristol.

Earlier in the evening, the men had argued and physically clashed over a 23-year-old woman Reilly had been seeing.

Angered and humiliated, Graber retrieved his father’s .357 handgun from their home and returned to where Reilly stood outside the woman’s residence. After exchanging words and showing Reilly the gun, Graber briefly departed, only to return a second time.

Graber fatally shot Reilly in the head, then stood over his body and shot again. Graber then fired at and missed a concerned neighbor who had come out of his house during the violence.  

In a Bucks County courtroom half-filled with unhappy relatives and friends of the victim, Deputy District Attorney Robert D. James announced an agreement to reduce Graber’s life sentence to a term of 45 years to life.

The new sentence means that Graber would become eligible for parole in 2035, when he is 61 years old. 

The hearing was required by a series of recent federal and state appellate court decisions that declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional. Similar proceedings are being held throughout Pennsylvania as a result of those rulings.

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

In 2016, the Supreme Court further held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its findings in Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively. That decision meant more than 2,000 juvenile lifers nationwide would have to be resentenced.

In June 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania v. Batts that there is a presumption against imposing a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender. The ruling placed the burden on the Commonwealth to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of being rehabilitated before he or she can receive a life sentence.

Graber was the second of six inmates from Bucks County serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed as juveniles to be resentenced.

On Oct. 5, Judge Rea B. Boylan resentenced John Lekka, who at age 17 had helped his best friend murder a female classmate in Middletown, to a 45-to-life term.

Unlike Lekka’s hearing, which featured two days of testimony filled with gruesome details of the crime, psychological reports and accounts of the defendant’s prison record, Graber’s new sentence was negotiated between James and defense attorney Stuart Wilder.

Having reviewed voluminous briefs and other documents underlying the negotiations, Boylan, who is presiding over all six of Bucks County’s juvenile re-sentencings, accepted the attorneys’ recommendation as appropriate.

Graber was arrested by Bristol Borough police almost immediately after the shooting late on Feb. 10, 1990, and unrepentantly admitted his crime.

According to one officer at the police station that night, Graber declared, “I’m glad that I did it, and I would do it again.”

Later, in a holding cell, Graber told the same officer, “Go ahead, put me in jail. I shot him. I couldn’t help it…He just should not have [messed] with me.”

Graber pleaded guilty to a general charge of homicide, and was convicted of first-degree murder after a degree-of-guilt hearing. On December 21, 1990, Bucks County Judge Isaac S. Garb formally sentenced him to life in prison.

In court Monday, Graber read a statement saying that he now feels “profound remorse, regret, shame and sorrow” for what he did. He said he didn’t fully comprehend how devastating his crime had been to Reilly’s family until a close relative of his had died while he was in prison.

“I had a knowledge of it, but no real understanding of it,” Graber said, adding that he has been trying to atone in prison ever since. 

“I had opportunity after opportunity to walk away and remove myself from the situation” on the night of the shooting, Graber said, but he failed do so.

Being known as a murderer “is a scarlet letter that I am yoked with,” Graber said, one that he wears with shame and regret. “I am incapable of putting into words how sorry I am.”

His apology came after victim impact statements from Reilly’s father, mother and younger brother were read in court, three of several that were submitted to Boylan. All said they believe that the original life sentence should stand.

While such testimony legally could not be factored into Boylan’s decision, the statements will be preserved as part of the record to be considered by the parole board when Graber becomes eligible for release.

Graber’s life sentence “was a gift to the defendant and his family. That was his second chance at life,” Linda Reilly’s statement said. “Please understand that over the years the only serenity that I have held onto is that Shane’s murderer was to spend the rest of his life behind prison bars.”

“The most annoying fact in our justice system is that the murder victim, who obviously is not here to speak for him or herself, be damned, while the rights of the criminal are propped up and protected,” said the statement of James Reilly, the victim’s father. “For the murder of Shane Reilly, Mark Graber deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars, plain and simple, until his final breath of wasted oxygen leaves his body.”

The victim’s brother, Bristol Township Police Officer Jason Reilly, read his statement from the witness stand, a lengthy testament to a cherished older brother he lost at age 14.

“I miss Shane terribly,” he said. “There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him. And I feel completely helpless that there is nothing I can do to bring him back. I used to get through the hard times by remembering the fun we had together. Remembering his voice and his laugh used to make me smile.

“But as time has passed, I can no longer remember what his voice sounded like. And that is something I can never get back.”

Jason Reilly said his brother’s death ultimately led him to “a fork in the road,” where he decided to become a police officer instead of turning to self-destructive behavior.

“I have told Shane’s story countless times on duty to try to explain to people the senselessness of gun violence,” he said. “I’ve also shared my empathy with numerous family members of murder victims, in the hope that it brings some solace to their situation…I often speak to young people, people that some would consider `at-risk.’ I speak to them about choosing the right path in life, and I tell Shane’s story as an example.”

Mark Graber, he concluded, “is not a person that needs to be paroled any time in the near future. This is a person that should remain in prison until he understands the gravity of his actions.”

Boylan complimented Reilly’s loved ones for conducting themselves with dignity in court despite the frustration and anger they felt over the proceedings.

“I can’t imagine how difficult it is for the victim’s family, to be back in a courtroom” after thinking the case was over, Boylan said.

The judge said she hoped that the family could find solace in Graber’s belated public expression of regret, “having been confronted with the fact that the pain for this family endures, and that he cannot escape it.”

Approved for release by Gregg D. Shore, First Assistant District Attorney.

Office of the District Attorney
Bucks County Justice Center
100 N. Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901 
Phone: 215-348-6344 
Fax: 215-348-6299

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