It was one of the most-publicized murder cases in Tarrant County history. Diane Zamora and David Graham, right, exemplary teens who had won appointments to two of the nation's presitigious military academies, were convicted of killing a Mansfield High School sophomore. The case drew national attention and became the subject of a made-for-TV movie. In today's Famous Crimes installment, Staff Writer Deanna Boyd tells us about a murder case that began 12 years ago today with the discovery of a body.
-- Lance Murray
It began as simple girl-talk but unraveled a deadly secret.
In her dorm room at the Naval Academy in Annapolis on a late night in August 1996, midshipman Diane Zamora confided in her two roommates about the deep bond that she shared with her boyfriend, David Graham, a cadet at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
“We hold each other’s fates in our hands,” Zamora explained.
“What did you do, kill someone?”, one the girls quipped.
Zamora’s answer was unexpected.
“I didn’t kill anyone, but because of me, someone’s dead.”
Zamora’s confession to her girlfriends, some nine months after the discovery of Jones body, breathed life into a stale investigation that had already led to the wrongful arrest and release shortly thereafter of one teen and seemed destined to go unsolved forever.
“I think the girl talk was the one thing that started the ball rolling,” said Mike Parrish, who, in 1998, successfully prosecuted both Zamora and Graham on capital murder charges for Jones’ death.
“Once the girls spent a troubled night, they both went, as the honor code required them to do, to superiors and reported what Diana had said,” Parrish said. “Without that, the ball never gets rolling. Without that, could they (Zamora and Graham) have graduated from their academies, been married and been an astronaut and airline pilot? You bet.”
Authorities said a jealous Zamora had ordered her boyfriend to kill Jones after Graham claimed he had had a one-time sexual encounter with Jones while driving her home after a cross country meet. Prosecutors and Graham’s defense attorney later conceded that no sexual encounter ever took place.
Just before midnight on Dec. 4, 1995, Graham lured Jones into meeting him, then drove her a secluded Grand Prairie road.
There, he tried unsuccessfully to break her neck. When she struggled, Zamora, who had been hiding in the car’s trunk, emerged and struck Jones in the head with a dumbbell.
Jones was able to escape the car and stagger to a nearby field before collapsing. Graham gave chase, shooting her twice in the head as she lay wounded and defenseless on the ground.
In separate trials in 1998, both Graham and Zamora were found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Zamora, now 29, is incarcerated in the Mountain View Unit in Gatesville.
Graham, 30, sits in the Ellis Unit near Huntsville.
It will be Sept. 5, 2036 before they’re even eligible for parole.
Though both of their convictions have been upheld through appeals, earlier this year Zamora, below, went on the NBC television show Dateline, insisting she is not a killer. A polygraph she submitted to, however, indicated otherwise.
For Parrish, the killers were unlike anyone he had ever prosecuted before or again in his 26 years with the Tarrant County District Attorney’s office.
“It was two of America’s best and brightest with everything to live for and the world out there ahead of them just waiting to be conquered,” Parrish said. “For them to do such a cowardly, dastardly act together, and then continue the rest of their high school year like nothing was wrong and get into their academies, it just was so out of the ordinary.”
“It’s out of the extraordinary that you even have one kid who ...commits a crime this bad,” he added. “But here’s two that get together to commit this crime. It’s almost unbelievable. If you wrote it as fiction, people might not believe it.”
-- Deanna Boyd
-- Star-Telegram file photos