The Rape and Death of Pfc. Asia Graham: A Mother's Fight for Justice at Fort Bliss
Soldier Christian Alvarado was recently convicted of raping Pfc. Asia Graham, who died last year from an accidental drug overdose after spiraling into depression and battling the Army over her sexual assault, her mother said.
Of all the pain Nicole Graham has felt since the rape and death of her daughter — and there has been plenty — perhaps the sharpest came last week in a Fort Bliss courtroom, when she had to walk past the man who attacked her baby girl.
There was Pfc. Christian Alvarado, close enough to touch, seated at the defense table during his Texas court-marital. As Nicole stepped by him on her way to the witness stand, she fought to contain herself.
"It was horrible," the mother told Inside Edition Digital on Tuesday. "It was hard to just walk past him and not shake him and say, 'Why did you that? Why did you do that to my baby girl?'"
Alvarado was convicted Friday of raping Asia Graham and another service member. He was sentenced to 18 years and three months and will be dishonorably discharged. The 21-year-old was initially charged with sexually assaulting five women during a two-year period beginning in 2018.
One accuser declined to testify and charges involving her alleged rape were dropped as the court martial proceedings began last week. Alvarado was acquitted of sexually assaulting two other women, both civilians.
He also was convicted of aggravated assault for choking a woman and one count of lying to military investigators.
Asia Graham had been on base for only a month when she was raped in 2019 while unconscious in a barracks room. One year later, she was found dead in her quarters. She had accidentally overdosed while battling depression from the assault, her family said.
"We felt very sad and very appalled" about the acquittals, the mother said. "The women who testified, they had to relive it all over again."
So did Asia's mother. Her long, staggering battle to get justice for Asia plummeted her into despair and turned her life into one long, aching need to speak for her 19-year-old dead daughter.
She signed papers allowing Asia to enlist in the Army at age 18. Her late husband served 23 years, and Asia wanted to follow in her father's footsteps. "I gave them a healthy, spirited little girl and I got back a box," she said. Nicole Graham, and her sons, say the Army failed Asia.
It took two months for the private first class to work up enough courage to report her Dec. 31, 2019 attack. In February, she told her superior, her family said. But an official complaint wasn't filed until June, when Asia jumped the chain of command and went above her superior's head, her family said.
Fort Bliss spokeswoman Lt. Col. Allie Payne, in response to a detailed list of questions submitted by Inside Edition Digital, said there is an ongoing, separate investigation into how Asia Graham's complaint was initially handled.
"Fort Bliss takes all allegations of misconduct seriously, and not having record of an earlier report, the Senior Commander directed an Army Regulation 15-6 investigation into the third party report," Payne said.
On Friday, at the end of his five-day trial, Nicole said Alvarado turned to her and her two grown sons in the courtroom, and apologized for their loss.
"He had the nerve to apologize. I was just appalled. His eyes looked evil. His apology was insincere. I don't believe a word he said," Nicole said.
During the trial, "he talked about how he was sexually molested and how his momma didn't care for him. I was like 'Cry me a river.' We all have problems. That doesn't mean you go out and rape multiple women."
His trial took place against a backdrop of heightened scrutiny about how the military handles complaints of sexual assaults and harassment from female service members. Congressional leaders have pressed for legislation that would remove such investigations from the chain of command and place them with independent prosecutors.
On Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he supports such efforts and will recommend them to President Joe Biden.
On Friday, Fort Hood and Fort Bliss topped a list of Army installations where women are at the highest risk for sexual assault, according to a Rand Corp. study.
The study examined sexual harassment and assault incidents and researchers found active-duty Army women at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss faced the highest risk of such attacks.
The survey is part of an Army initiative to address sexual assault and harassment complaints following the killing last year of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was beaten to death and dismembered at Fort Hood by a fellow soldier who later shot himself to death when authorities tried to arrest him.
Guillen's killing became a national rallying cry as service members, politicians and celebrities held rallies and demonstrations demanding the military do more to protect female service members. The Army Secretary said last year that Fort Hood had the highest rates of violence, sexual assaults and harassment in the entire branch of service.
Fort Bliss came in second in the number of sexual assaults and harassment, the Rand Corp. study found.
Researchers said toxic command climates and large numbers of young and inexperienced soldiers at both installations could explain the high numbers.
The study listed the remaining bases in the top five as: Fort Riley, Kansas, Fort Campbell, Kentucky and Fort Carson, Colorado.
Anthony Graham, Asia's big brother, moved to El Paso last year after Asia said she needed help, he told Inside Edition Digital in May. The two rented an apartment outside Fort Bliss. In June, Asia finally told him what happened to her.
"I started crying," he said. "I kind of felt like I let her down. She's my little sister."
Asia told him, "The dude raped me. I got drunk and when I woke up I was in his room and my clothes were off and I knew something happened," Anthony said.
Asia said she had reported the incident, but still had to see her attacker every day at work, her brother recounted.
"My sister was the most happiest person about the military," he said. "When I moved to El Paso, I saw that aura be dimmed."
Fort Bliss officials later ordered Asia to move back on base, Anthony said. "They wrote her up. It got to her. The whole Army didn't care about her. "
Asia Graham's order to move back on base was in her best interest, the military said.
"The Command’s decision for Pfc. Graham to return to her on-base residence centered exclusively on providing for her safety and well-being. By residing on base, Pfc. Graham had better access to medical care, counseling services, and other installation resources," Lt. Col. Payne responded to Inside Edition Digital.
Payne said Graham's new barracks room was moved away from Alvarado's quarters. They previously had been living on the same floor, she said.
Alvarado wasn't taken into custody until February 2021, according to Fort Bliss officials. Up until her death, Asia Graham had to face Alvarado at work because they were both in the same unit, her family said.
"I'm a Christian and I'm supposed to forgive, but I can't forgive him, because indirectly, he killed her. The command failed her," said Asia's mother.
Nicole Graham's battle to keep her daughter's name alive, through media interviews and social media posts, is what kept herself alive in the very dark days after Asia's death.
Of Alvarado's sentence, she said, "Of course we would like him to be in there forever, but 18 years was a good comprise. We just wanted for justice to be done," she said.
Nicole never considered giving up.
"I think that's what kept me going," she said. "Now I feel empty. I feel like my life's purpose is done. I don't know what my purpose is. I let God know I'm ready to come home."
But she has four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way. She knows she wants to be around for them. But sometimes, the loss of her only daughter seems too much to bear.
"I'll never see her beautiful face again," Nicole said.
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