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Policeman's brother fights to keep his killer behind bars

Jessica Cuffman • Apr 22, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Every time his brother’s killer is up for parole, Jim Vacha is there to keep him from being released.

In 1973, then-22-year-old Graham shot and killed Fred Vacha, a Cleveland police officer, when Vacha and his partner pulled over their cruiser to question Graham as he walked down the street. Graham opened fire, instantly killing Vacha and striking Vacha’s partner, Officer John Saccany, in the leg.

Other officers captured Graham after he ran from the scene.

He was convicted of murder and given two life sentences to be served back to back, in addition to a 20-year sentence. There was no death penalty in Ohio at that time.

Jim Vacha and his wife retired to Catawba Island in the 1990s, moving from Parma Heights.

Each time Graham comes up for parole, Jim is there to stand up for his brother.

“It’s a shame to say, but we have this experience every five years,” he said. “I don’t have a word for it. This is our third or fourth time.”

But each time, Vacha and his nephew, Fred Vacha III, who was unborn at the time of his father’s death, Saccany and others have had success in keeping Graham behind bars at Grafton Correctional Institution.

“I don’t know how anxious the parole board is to let out a cop killer,” Vacha said. “I’d feel bad if we didn’t do anything and they let him out.”

Vacha, his nephew, Saccany, the president of the Cleveland patrolman association, and the officer who arrested Graham, will meet with a member of the parole board in May to plead their case.

They plan to take with them letters from family members and friends, as well as newspaper articles. They’ll also take electronic petitions, such as from blockparole.com, where anyone can add a name to the list of those who oppose Graham’s release.

“This is an exceptionally strong family, exceptionally passionate about keeping this guy in prison,” said Bret Vinocur, who runs blockparole.com and is collecting electronic signatures for the petition.

“Cop killers are capable of killing anyone. That kind of disregard for authority is dangerous,” Vinocur said.

Graham, 63, will have his hearing in June.

At age 70, Vacha will keep up the fight as long as he can, and his nephew will carry on when he can’t anymore.

“They’ve all said they’ll carry on,” Vacha said.

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