Graham, 39, pleaded guilty Tuesday to murder, three counts of armed robbery, three counts of kidnapping, false imprisonment and hijacking a vehicle, among other charges.
Graham was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole, plus a consecutive life sentence in Superior Court Judge Reuben Green’s courtroom.
“It was the hard work and dedication (of Marietta Police) that brought us to the point where we are today,” said Cobb Assistant District Attorney Jesse Evans after the 30-minute hearing. “It’s not very often you have a situation where the defendant will come in and willingly take a life without parole sentence, so we’re very satisfied with the end result.”
Police Detective Jonnie Moeller said all the memories “came flooding back” as Evans summarized the case.
“The horrendous nature of what happened, the lack of remorse (from Graham) … I think it had an effect on everyone that was involved,” she said. “My ultimate hope is (that the families) get some sort of closure from all of this.”
Evans recounted the events that took place the night of Oct. 21, 2007, at the GameStop store off Cobb Parkway in south Marietta.
Graham went to the store around closing time, pulled a 9mm handgun on Cherry and Luis Gallegos, who was a senior in high school at the time, bound their hands and feet with duct tape and forced them into a bathroom at the back of the store.
Shortly after that, Graham let Gallegos’ father, Jose Gallegos, into the store while he was trying to pick up the teenager from work.
Evans said while Graham was letting the father into the store, Cherry told Luis Gallegos, “I think we’ll make it. If I don’t, tell my family and everyone that I love them.”
Jose Gallegos was also bound and forced into the back bathroom at gunpoint.
After identifying Cherry as the store manager, Graham demanded that he open the cash register and help him get into other locked areas of the store.
Luis and Jose Gallegos told police they overheard Graham assaulting Cherry during this time and the “rapid unwinding sound of tape from the front of the store,” before locking him in the electrical control room.
Afterwards, Graham reportedly loaded thousands of dollars worth of merchandise into Cherry’s car while still communicating with Luis and Jose Gallegos before leaving the scene.
“(Graham) was saying things to the effect of, ‘Cooperate and you will live. I will kill you and your family if you talk,’” Evans said. “Before leaving, the defendant stated certain things to Louis and Jose to the effect of, ‘Give me 15 minutes. The victim is probably already dead, and I’m waiting for the victim to die because I don’t like white people, for all I know he’s dead right now and I’m going to give you a chance that I didn’t give him.’”
He left the scene in Cherry’s car, leaving the father and son in the store’s bathroom and Cherry in the electrical room.
When Luis and Jose Gallegos eventually got free, they beat down the electrical room door to discover Cherry was dead.
Evans said the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Officer reported that Cherry died from asphyxiation.
“(Cherry) was beaten, he was bound, suffocated and this would have been a slow and torturous death lasting at a minimum of a minute and a half but potentially a few minutes before he passed from the duct tape being placed around his head and neck,” Evans said.
Marietta Police were able to match a sketch artist’s drawing, fingerprints and surveillance video in the store to Graham and arrested him two days later at a the Skyway apartments across the street from where he was originally listed as living in Marietta.
Luis and Jose Gallegos and a third witness outside the store at the time of the incident were also able to identify Graham in a lineup and the suspect’s girlfriend at the time reportedly told police that he admitted to robbing the store, had purchased a gun the day before the incident and had been talking about the potential burglary beforehand.
Graham was also found in possession of merchandise stolen from the store.
He was questioned by detectives and booked in the Cobb County Jail, where Graham has remained ever since.
On Tuesday, Graham told Judge Green he “absolutely” understood why he was in court, “I am” when asked if he was guilty of the charges and “yes, your honor” to understanding the sentence.
Evans also said he spoke to Cherry’s parents, one of whom lives in the West and the other who lives in Florida, and they were satisfied with the sentence and plea deal.
“I also spoke to both Luis and Jose Gallegos …. Luis’ first question was, ‘How do Matt’s parents feel about this plea?’ and when I indicated what they had told me, he said he would be satisfied with this as well and that he would tell his father about this plea,” Evans said.
He said the father and son still live in Cobb and had indicated they might come to the hearing but did not.
After the hearing, Evans said the case took nearly six years to come to a close because after initially filing a notice of intent to seek the death penalty, Graham’s defense attorney Jimmy Berry filed a number of motions in the case.
“A lot of the delay can be attributed to the number of motions filed by the defense, including a motion to recuse Judge Green that took a while to navigate,” he said.
Evans was not sure where Graham would be housed for the duration of his sentence but said he will be evaluated by the Georgia Department of Corrections before they determine his imprisonment location.