Andrea Little Gray was attending an event honoring her slain mother when she took a call on her cell phone.
She hurried away from her table to beg a bail bondsman not to release the man accused of killing her mother.
Travis McGraw, who is charged with the murder of Vanessa Mintz, might be sprung from jail, she and her family had been told.
"He would not tell me, 'No, I'm not going to agree to bond him out,' and I said, 'sir, you have been told by multiple people ... that he has a plan to flee,' and I said, 'sir, please tell me you're not going to do that.' And he said, 'well, I'm in the bonding business and this is how I make my money. That's a lot of money to ask me to walk away from.'"
Her fear was realized less than two weeks later. McGraw left the Polk County jail Monday afternoon, a free man at least for now, until a murder trial that a court official said was likely to be set this summer.
The bond was handled by a bond agent who demanded that the murder suspect wear a tracking bracelet with GPS technology. That was little comfort to Little Gray and her sister, who fear McGraw may try to make contact. She said she was trying to find out whether the tracking device would alert authorities if McGraw came close to their home. The release order bars McGraw from making contact with Mintz family members, WLOS reported on Monday.
For Little Gray, making a desperate call to a bondsman is just part of what she and her sister and their grandfather describe as the never-ending frustration over a case that passed its two-year anniversary in February.
McGraw is charged with first-degree murder in the shotgun slaying of Vanessa, a real estate agent and businesswoman well-known in Hendersonville and Saluda. Prosecutors say McGraw, an Air Force Reserves officer and former Fletcher police officer, killed his wife because he faced an ultimatum from a mistress. More than two years after the murder, Little Gray and her sister, Jessica Freeman, and Vanessa's father, Carl Mintz, say they're worn out waiting for justice.
Although they have gotten support from Assistant District Attorney Beth Dierauf, they said McGraw's court-appointed attorney, Tony Dalton of Brevard, is stalling.
Dalton, they've been told, "is just is too busy, he's got a lot on him," Little Gray said. "He typically likes to keep his trials for three years. He just likes for the heat to die down in the community. We don't understand if his family can come up with $300,000, why are they using state funds (for a public defender)."
McGraw's family, the Mintz daughters say, has come up with $300,000 in property and contacted a bail bondsman about securing McGraw's release. He is being held in the Transylvania County jail under a $750,000 bond.
"You'd have to have $75,000 cash plus collateral equal to $750,000" to get a bond in a first-degree murder case, said Asheville bondsman Tim Tolar, who was not aware of the McGraw case. "Probably be a nice home, or several nice homes" as collateral. "He'd have to wear a satellite bracelet with GPS technology and pay for that. That's $20 a day so that's $600 a month. I've gotten some people out on murder charges and I require it."
The status of the family's effort to spring McGraw was unclear. The Mintz family would not identify the bail bondsman who acknowledged to them working on the case; the five bond agents the Lightning reached all said they're not involved. Transylvania Sheriff David Mahoney and a Polk County jailer said they had not heard of an imminent bond for McGraw. He is being held in Brevard but a release order would have to come from Polk County, where the crime was committed.
Mintz's daughters say McGraw looks dramatically different than he did when he went to jail.
Freeman testified at a court hearing days after the murder court that McGraw had boasted of his ability to disappear.
"He was going into the woods for an undetermined amount of days, and he didn't know how long he'd be gone," she said in an interview last week. She said he told her: "I've been trained to disappear and I just need some time. No one would ever be able to find me."
His military training and motive to avoid prison, the daughters say, make him a likely flight risk.
McGraw's defense attorney and District Attorney Jeff Hunt did not return calls seeking comment on the case.
Larry Hogan, a family friend and attorney who employed Mintz as his office manager, has helped the Mintz family. He filed a wrongful death lawsuit against McGraw to block his efforts to collect life insurance payments. McGraw tried to collect a life insurance policy through the Air Force, the family members say, and filed for Social Security survivor benefits the Monday after Mintz's murder.
"I can't imagine why the district attorney doesn't put him on trial and get this over with," Hogan said.
It all adds to growing frustration at justice delayed and, for now, denied.
"This is taking so long. How much is this costing all of us?" Little Gray said. "It's costing us mentally, emotionally, physically but it's also costing the community. And then here we have to worry, if he gets out on bond, he has the wherewithal and training, given to him by the government of the United States, to disappear. He has made the statement that his intent was to disappear in the woods.
"His family has scraped together $300,000 worth of dirt equity, but still, why could they not sell it and use it to represent him," she said.
The Athena Award in Hendersonville has been named to honor her mother, and the event last week is usually a time to think back on her mother's contributions to the community and how well-loved she was.
"I had to stand up and leave the Athena tea to beg and plead to his bail bondsman and say, 'Please don't do this. He has the training, He has the knowledge and has spoken intent of disappearing. Please don't do this,'" Little Gray said. "We can't even move on."
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