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Noted Syracuse attorney James R. McGraw dies in Watertown

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WATERTOWN - Noted Syracuse defense attorney James R. McGraw died Friday morning at Samaritan Medical Center after suffering a medical emergency at the Jefferson County Court complex on Arsenal Street.

Mr. McGraw, 70, a seasonal resident of Campbell’s Point, Sackets Harbor, was at the complex for a conference in the criminal case of Aaron M. Netto, Watertown, a former state corrections officer charged with conducting illegal asbestos abatement at a vacant house on Academy Street.

Mr. McGraw represented several clients in high-profile cases in Jefferson County, including Andrea M. Kline, a Michigan woman convicted in 2008 of criminally negligent homicide for causing the death of her newborn baby at the Best Western Carriage House Inn in Watertown, and John R. Breen Jr., Watertown, the stepfather of supermodel Maggie Rizer, from whom Mr. Breen admitted in 2004 to embezzling millions of dollars, which he subsequently gambled away on the state’s Quick Draw video lottery game.

Mr. McGraw successfully defended Frank G. Pickert, with a County Court jury ruling in 2001 that Mr. Pickert was not guilty of murdering 14-month-old Amanda Jean Pitts a decade before in Antwerp. Mr. McGraw also represented one of 10 men from Henderson Harbor who played roles in shooting at least 2,0000 cormorants on Little Galloo Island in 1998. He also defended one of the “Lost Boyz,” four teenagers who were charged in 1992 with stabbing to death a female classmate at Indian River Central School, Philadelphia.

In St. Lawrence County, Mr. McGraw successfully defended Daniel E. Way of Gouverneur, who was charged with murder after his two sons, ages 4 and 1, were killed in a 1993 fire. In Lewis County, he represented former Denmark town Supervisor Daniel L. Hurlburt in 2009 against allegations that he stole money from the town. Mr. Hurlburt ultimately was convicted of petit larceny and official misconduct and was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge after paying restitution.

Mr. McGraw began practicing law in 1973 and tried more than 40 murder cases, according to his law firm’s website.

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