GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- A former nurse's aide on trial for murder testified Tuesday that she and her lesbian lover made up a story about smothering nursing home patients to shock a co-worker.
Gwendolyn Gale Graham, 26, of Tyler, Texas, said the story backfired when the lover later claimed the story was true out of revenge for the breakup of their relationship.
Graham spoke softly and showed little emotion in testifying in her defense against five counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of five severely incapacitated women at Alpine Manor Nursing Home in Walker in the first four months of 1987.
Graham said she and former nurse's aide supervisor Cathy Wood -- her live-in lover -- fabricated a story about killing patients at Alpine to shock another lesbian co-worker with whom they had both been involved.
Wood claimed Graham took articles from the slain patients, including a sock, a piece of jewelry and a miniature house ornament, which they kept on a shelf in their bedroom.
'Cathy told Dawn (Male) that we had been killing patients -- she said I'd been doing it -- and I asked Dawn if she believed it,' Graham testified. 'She said 'no' and I said we could prove it, so we took her into the bedroom and showed her something off the shelf -- it was just a game.'
Wood, 27, has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy and was the prosecution's star witness against Graham. She faces a possible life prison term but would be eligible for parole review in 10 years.
Graham faces a mandatory life prison term without possibility of parole if convicted as charged.
Wood testified Graham suffocated patients in their beds while she either stood guard or detained other staff members so Graham would not be caught.
Wood contended she was plagued by guilt but did not contact authorities because she feared Graham, who Wood claimed was physically and emotionally abusive.
Graham said it was Wood who was the dominant person in the relationship -- outweighing Graham by nearly 200 pounds -- and having the more forceful personality.
Graham said Wood threatened to kill her and another former nurse's aide, Heather Barager, when the two told Wood they were leaving Grand Rapids in August 1987 to return to Graham's native Texas.
'I wanted to leave Cathy ... mostly I was tired of playing her games ... hurting people ... emotionally and mentally,' Graham said. 'She told Heather that she would kill both of us if we left the state and make someone believe the story we'd been telling about killing patients at Alpine Manor.'
Graham denied any patients were killed at the nursing home or that she and Wood ever conspired to plan such slayings.
After Wood was told Graham and Barager intended to leave for Texas together, she asked to spend one final evening with Graham and Graham said she agreed.
Graham testified Wood coaxed her to a darkened basement, tied her up -- a not uncommon sexual practice between the two -- but then menaced her with a gun and threatened to kill Graham or force Graham to watch as she killed herself.
Eventually Wood freed Graham and took her to the house where she was then staying, Graham testified.
Graham said she was sexually abused as a child by her father for several years and had a troubled relationship with her mother.
She said she burned her arms dozens of times with cigarettes as a teenager to get back at her father for the abuse.