After 18 years of incarceration and countless protestations of innocence, Anthony Graves finally got a nod of approval from the one person who mattered Wednesday and at last returned home — free from charges that he participated in the butchery of a family in Somerville he did not know and free of the possibility that he would have to answer for them with his life.Not surprisingly, the man responsible for putting him there, former DA Charles Sebesta, still holds to Graves' guilt despite all of the evidence to the contrary. Why should we not be surprised, given that Sebesta engaged in misconduct. (Yeah, pull yourselves from the floor, folks, as I know you are shocked, SHOCKED to hear that.)
The district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, Bill Parham, gave Graves his release. The prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss charges that had sent Graves to Texas' death row for most of his adult life. Graves returned to his mother's home in Brenham no longer the "cold-blooded killer," so characterized by the prosecutor who first tried him, but as another exonerated inmate who even in the joy of redemption will face the daunting prospect of reassembling the pieces of a shattered life.
"He's an innocent man," Parham said, noting that his office investigated the case for five months. "There is nothing that connects Anthony Graves to this crime. I did what I did because that's the right thing to do."
It turns out that Sebesta depended upon a "star" witness, yet another person whose testimony was not believable. Sebesta also withheld exculpatory evidence which, again, is par for the course with U.S. prosecutors. Notice that Sebesta never has had to face a second of penalty for pushing what he knew would be a questionable case.
Not that the State of Texas was particularly honorable. The Chronicle notes:
The evidence against Graves was never overwhelming, depending mostly on Carter's earlier accusation and jailhouse statements purportedly overheard by law enforcement officers. Even Sebesta acknowledged it was not his strongest case.In other words, prosecutors wanted to try him again and only gave up when the man's innocence became obvious, and even then they did not lightly drop charges. After all, the State always is right, even when it is wrong.
"I've had some slam-dunk cases," he said in 2001. "It was not a slam-dunk case."
Graves' appellate attorneys, Jay Burnett and Roy Greenwood, knew it was far less. They soon were convinced their client had no knowledge of or participation in the crime, just as he had claimed since the moment of his arrest.
Over the years, there was increasing evidence raised to doubt the validity of the conviction. Students in a University of St. Thomas journalism class worked with The Innocence Project at the University of Houston to review the Graves case in detail.
Nicole Casarez, the journalism professor who taught the class, and one of her students interviewed Carter's brother, whose affidavit along with other evidence they gathered helped persuade the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to order a hearing, which eventually led to the new trial.
"I think the dismissal motion filed this morning says it best: There is no credible evidence to inculpate this defendant," Casarez said Wednesday night. "I’m just thrilled that it has finally come to this. I think it was a lot of people working very hard, perhaps even divine intervention, so that it all worked out today."
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction in 2006. A three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that prosecutors elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.
Graves eventually was returned to county jail with a bond set at $1 million, and Parham began to reassemble the case and review the evidence. He hired former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler as a special prosecutor. Siegler soon saw that making a case against Graves was all but impossible.
"After months of investigation and talking to every witness who's ever been involved in this case, and people who've never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder," Siegler said Wednesday.
It was not that the case had gone moldy over the years, she said, but that it never really existed in the first place.
"This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn't make the case anymore," Siegler said. "He is an innocent man."
Until Americans are willing to stand up to this tyranny and bullying by the Len Gregors and the Charles Sebetas of the prosecutorial world and demand that these liars be held accountable for what they do, there is not much hope for this country. (And how many innocent people did Sebeta manage to convict without their verdicts being overturned? Who knows. A dishonest man is a dishonest man.)
In Tonya Craft's trial, the State of Georgia held that the testimony of Joal and Sarah Henke -- which differed 180 degrees from their earlier testimony under oath during a deposition -- was absolutely true, while the State of Georgia simultaneously claimed that Dr. Nancy Aldridge was telling bald-faced lies. The State of Georgia refused to let jurors see signed and printed evidence that would have proven that Sandra Lamb and Sherry Wilson committed perjury.
So, as we move into the upcoming elections, let us remember that the politicians and the courts that govern us are unwilling to make sure that those associated with the State who commit crimes in broad daylight are even lightly disciplined, let alone have to face real consequences for lawbreaking. Somehow, I doubt that these elections will change the real problems we face.