1. News

Judge rejects 'stand your ground' claim in death of USF football player

After a two-day hearing, a judge Wednesday rejected a "stand your ground" defense claim by 
Randolph Graham, accused in the 2015 stabbing death of former USF football player Elkino Watson outside an Ybor City City nightclub. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Aug. 30, 2017

TAMPA — The videos played in slow-motion, frame-by-frame, again and again, before the judge's bench.

They show a man, his arm raised, a pointed object jutting from his right hand, according to Assistant State Attorney Christopher Castillo.

It is Randolph Graham, the prosecutor said, repeatedly swinging forward, plunging a knife into the body of Elkino Watson.

"You don't see any apprehension on the defendant," Castillo said. "You don't see him struggling to get away."

Castillo's argument convinced Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta, who on Wednesday denied Graham's request for immunity from prosecution under Florida's "stand your ground" law.

Graham, 25, who is accused of second-degree murder in the death of Watson, a former University of South Florida football player, will now head to trial.

His case was among the first in Hillsborough County to proceed with a "stand your ground" defense since lawmakers changed the law in June.

Under "stand your ground," an individual has no duty to retreat and may use deadly force if he or she is in fear of death or great bodily harm while facing a violent confrontation. Before, it was up to the defense to prove that immunity applied. But the recent change in the law shifted the burden to the state to prove that it does not.

After two days of testimony in Graham's case, Ficarrotta ruled that the state had met its burden.

Watson, 23, was stabbed during a brawl the morning of Sept. 6, 2015, as he left the Orpheum nightclub in Ybor City with some former USF teammates. Watson had graduated the year before.

An incident hours earlier had touched off the fight. Watson's girlfriend, Diamond Hall, said a man hit her inside the club. At closing time, as hundreds filed outside onto Seventh Avenue, Hall spotted the man, Justin Stroud, who had been visiting the club with Graham and another man, Rashard Matthews.

Stroud testified that Hall confronted him. Then Watson asked which man had hit her. She pointed, but at no one in particular. The fight was on.

No one said they saw a knife that night. But Stroud and Matthews testified that several large men swarmed them and began beating them. They testified in support of Graham's stand your ground defense, in which he argued Watson and his friends "had a significant height and weight advantage" over them.

The USF player was 8 inches taller than Graham and weighed 150 pounds more.

But a different narrative came in testimony from some of Watson's teammates. Among them was Desmond Horne, who also suffered stab wounds in the fight.

Horne testified that he saw someone attacking Watson and jumped in to help him. Horne said he punched one man in the back of the head and ended up backed against a wall with someone locked around his waist.

The judge was shown surveillance and mobile phone video of the brawl. In one video, as Horne struggles with at least one other person, Watson steps forward to help. At that point, a man — Graham, according to the state — steps behind Watson.

Narrating over the slow-motion frames in court, prosecutor Castillo said the video shows Graham driving his right hand into Watson's back — in the same area where his stab wounds appeared.

"Would a reasonable person, who is trying to help their friend . . . go and stab a person in the back twice?" Castillo asked.

Assistant Public Defender Crystal Urquiza, who led Graham's defense, objected to Castillo's characterizations.

She disputed the assertion that Graham and his friends were the aggressors, or that their participation in the fight constituted criminal activity. She reiterated that Watson and his fellow football players were much bigger and delivered much more punishing blows than Graham's group.

"The actions in this case were not unreasonable in light of the circumstances and the situation," Urquiza said.

A jury will now decide if Graham is guilty of murder. His trial is scheduled for Nov. 13.

Contact Dan Sullivan at or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.


  1. Apex Performance is located at  4205 W Dr Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. (Photo courtesy of Sam Poole). Photo courtesy of Sam Poole.
    Workouts consist of a warm-up, weight lifting and cardio finisher.
  2. ALICE HERDEN | Special to the Times The Brooksville Blueberry Festival, held the last weekend of April in downtown Brooksville, brought visitors from locally and beyond.
    The Tourist Development Council heard proposals Tuesday and will vote on funding next month
  3. Neighbors had objected to the Lago Verde mine in north-central Pasco and then the adjoining Seven Diamonds LLC mine for the past seven years. The Seven Diamonds mine is now adding 60 additional acres to increase in size by one-fifth.
    The Seven Diamonds LLC mine is adding 60 acres, increasing in size by one-fifth.
  4. County Sheriff Al Nienhuis faces another contentious budget negotiation with the Hernando County Commission. [Times]
    Why are sheriff’s positions routinely left unfilled, and where does the money budgeted for them end up, asks the candidate challenging Sheriff Al Nienhuis.
  5. An man wades through flooded streets with bags of groceries in the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Petersburg during Tropical Storm Colin in 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT  |  Loren Elliott / Tampa Bay Times
    The city plans to adjust its stormwater billing so homeowners with the most impervious surface area pay the most.
  6. Adelaida Borges reads fortunes for tourists visiting Old Havana. She misses American customers, who came more frequently before the Trump administration restricted travel to the island. TRACEY EATON  |  Special to the Times
    Both countries continue battle of wills and words over island’s future.
  7. Dr. Paul McRae was the first black chief of staff at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Dr. McRae died on September 13, 2019. He was photographed here in the Tampa Bay Times photo studio for the 2008 Dr. Carter G Woodson Museum's "Legends Honorees" gala. BOYZELL HOSEY  |  BOYZELL HOSEY  |  Times
    ‘His extraordinary example paved the way for so many others.’
  8. Neeld-Gordon Garden Center, open at this location since 1925, is closing on Sept. 28. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Times
    The development of Pinellas County and the arrival of the big box stores helped hasten the store’s demise.
  9. Suzanne Natzke, an artist and teacher with the Pasco Fine Arts Council, arranges her watercolor paintings for an upcoming exhibit, 'Moments in Time.' The exhibit will be held through Oct. 21 at the council's new gallery at Avalon Park West in Wesley Chapel. MICHELE MILLER  |  Michele Miller
    The countywide Council will exhibit work at the Avalon Park West community.
  10. Representatives from the Pasco County school district and the United School Employees of Pasco discuss salary and benefits during negotiations on Sept. 18, 2019. JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |  Times Staff Writer
    The proposal is short on details, with officials saying they want to work through specifics during negotiations.