ON THE MORNING of his release from jail, erstwhile murder suspect Mike McGraw blinks in the broad sunlight and lowers his thick body into the shotgun seat. He tosses a plastic bag full of personal effects into the back seat.

He's about to take a trip to Wat Promkunaram. He swears it'll be his first visit to the Buddhist temple west of Phoenix, where nine people were killed in August.

Other Tucson suspects in the temple murder case are met on this Friday morning by jubilant, weeping relatives and friends, sweeping past an army of reporters and photographers at the county courthouse in downtown Phoenix. Not Mike McGraw. Jailers spirit him through a tunnel and he emerges practically unnoticed.

McGraw claims he has a girlfriend named Pam who drives a white Corvette. But she's not around. So he climbs into a reporter's car. He always has a story to tell.

He complains about "bad press," but in the next breath he wants to know when the story's coming out. In the course of a morning, his mood swings back and forth from euphoria to dark depression.

"Man, it's like my lawyer told me, they don't care about me," McGraw says as he cranks down the window. "All they want to do is sell papers." He grins, his pneumatic cheeks rolling back on his face, two brown softballs beneath dark eyes. "I shaved off my goatee, so they wouldn't recognize me. Do you think it makes a difference?"

From his jail cell, McGraw talked with several reporters, insisting upon his innocence and spilling out quotes. In the ten days before the suspects' release, despite the warnings of his lawyer not to discuss the case with anyone, including "police, family, friends and probation or parole officers," McGraw called New Times more than a dozen times.

He's been calling people for most of his life. He racks up triple-digit phone bills.

Still, he insists, he did not make that fateful phone call from the Tucson psychiatric hospital that led to the arrests of him and several of his friends. Court documents say otherwise. Investigators for Maricopa County Sheriff Tom Agnos say it was the phone call on September 10 from Mike McGraw that was the first "break" in the temple murder case.

During extensive interrogation, sheriff's investigators claim, McGraw confessed that he and his friends murdered nine people inside the Thai Buddhist temple. Then his friends allegedly confessed. Then they all recanted.

Interrogation? Mike McGraw does not have to be interrogated. He spews out information, whether or not you want to hear it.

Known in some Tucson circles as "Crazy Mike," and described by some friends and family members as a "chronic liar," 24-year-old Mike McGraw was the linchpin of the government's case.

Until the case apparently fizzled. Two teenagers from the west Valley were linked to the murder and allegedly confessed, leading to public arguing between the sheriff and County Attorney Rick Romley over who botched the internationally notorious murder case.

All this because of Mike McGraw.
Some people from his neighborhood in Tucson blame McGraw for the entire mess--not for the murder but for causing his friends to be arrested. The word is that he's reluctant to return home to face their accusations. McGraw denies there's a rift. He swears his old neighborhood pals are eager to see him.

While the families and friends of the other Tucson men jailed in the case organized protest marches and trekked to Phoenix to await their release, members of McGraw's family sent him a bus ticket for the ride back to Tucson and, during his stay in jail, wrote him admonishing letters.

"Maybe if you admit it was all to get attention or you just lied about everything, maybe you'd all get out of this mess quicker," his sister Gina wrote him in early October. In another letter, she pleaded: "I love you, Mike, you're my only brother. You've done lots of stupid things in your day, but everyone knows you're no killer. But also everyone knows you like to open your mouth about things that you don't know about. But hey, if you said what they said you said, I know you're lying, Mike. I wish I knew what made you do something like that. . . . Please don't talk to anyone except your lawyer."

During the 40-minute drive to Wat Promkunaram last Friday, McGraw does nothing but talk--about cotton bolls, electrocution, new shoes, babes, whatever.

Like a hyperactive child, McGraw turns halfway around in his seat and takes a copy of a newspaper off the back floorboard. He begins to broadcast the stories about the case. He clips the words, rattling them off in rapid fire.

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Philip Martin