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McGRAW BACKS OUT OF PLEA AGREEMENT

Travis McGraw appears in court. Travis McGraw appears in court.

COLUMBUS — Murder defendant Travis Lee McGraw backed out of a negotiated plea bargain this morning just as a special court hearing on the plea and his sentence was to start.

McGraw appeared in the courtroom with defense attorney Tony Dalton of Brevard and confirmed to Superior Court Judge Marvin P. Pope Jr. that he had had an opporunity to meet with Dalton and had rejected the plea agreement.
McGraw, 47, is charged with the murder of Vanessa Mintz, who was found dead in the Saluda Mountain Lodge on Feb. 19, 2011. She had been shot to death in the manager's quarters of the inn, which the family owned.
The judge denied a motion by prosecutors to revoke McGraw's $750,000 bond, granted the state's motion to bar McGraw from contacting prosecution witnesses, and confirmed the trial date on first degree murder charges of May 19 at the Polk County Courthouse.

AlexBassAlex Bass speaks with colleagues after a special hearing in Travis McGraw murder case.
"The defendant changed his mind," said Chief Assistant District Attorney Alex Bass of District 29A, the lead prosecutor. "It surprised his attorney, it surprised everybody I guess. The first I heard of it was 9:30 this morning when his attorney walked in the door."
Bass told Judge Pope that prosecutors and the defense had been in negotiations for a plea agreement for several months. "The defense was given a deadline of March 1," Bass said. "On March 1, the state was contacted by his attorney who said the defendant would be taking a plea in this particular case."
Dalton confirmed to the judge that McGraw had rejected the state's offer. Bass then said that the offer is now withdrawn and no other plea will be offered.

"The defendant stands charged with first degree murder." Bass said.

Details of the agreement were not made public in court.
Arguing against the state's motion to revoke bail, Dalton said McGraw suffers from ongoing problems caused by an on-duty back injury when he was a Fletcher police officer and is being treated at the VA medical center in Asheville.
Vanessa Mintz's daughters Jessica Freeman (left) and Andrew Little Gray walk back into the courtroom after hearing that McGraw had reversed his decision to accept a plea agreement.Vanessa Mintz's daughters Jessica Freeman (left) and Andrea Little Gray walk back into the courtroom after hearing that McGraw had reversed his decision to accept a plea agreement.McGraw's surprise reversal was anticlimactic in a courtroom filled on one side with friends and family of Vanessa Mintz. Twenty members of the MIntz family filed in to the courtroom at 9:10 a.m. and filled the first three rows, wearing red ribbons imprinted with the words "Vanessa's Vision." A much smaller group, including McGraw's family, friends and minister, were seated on the right side of the courtroom behind the defense table.

The Vanessa Mintz murder has been one of the more closely followed murder cases in the Hendersonville and Saluda area in recent years. A popular business woman who was active in the community, Mintz was managing the family motel when prosecutors say her husband shot her to death. Mintz's life has been memorialized locally with the creation of the Athena Award in her name, which recognizes women who are community leaders and who mentor other women.

The case has also drawn widespread media attention. Among the news organizations covering Friday's hearing were a videographer and reporter from the CBS news show "48 Hours," which covers sensational or unusual murders.