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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Video of Documentary on Anthony Graves Case - Texas Death Row Probable Innocence Case

Texas Monthly has a long article in this month's edition and a 19 minute video on their website about the case of Anthony Graves. You can click here to read the article, and you can watch the video by clicking here and going to the TM website. Watch Graves' reaction when he is told in the police station that he is being charged with capital murder; he can't believe it. Graves' conviction has been overturned, but he is facing a retrial in 2011.

From TM:
"Since August 23, 1992, Anthony Graves has been behind bars for the gruesome murder of a family in Somerville. There was no clear motive, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and the only witness against him recanted, declaring again and again before his death, in 2000, that Graves didn’t do it. If he didn’t, the truth will come out. Won’t it?"
The Dallas Morning News Editorial Board says:
For anyone with an interest in prosecutorial misconduct and capital punishment, the October issue of Texas Monthly contains required reading – a chilling account alleging deceit and abuse in pursuit of a murder conviction. The article, available today, should make even ardent supporters of the death penalty shudder to consider how an egregiously flimsy and unproven case nearly ended the life of Anthony Graves before a federal appeals court intervened and ended his 18-year residence on death row.
 Jeff Blackburn of the Innocence Project of Texas has this to say about the Anthony Graves case on the Grits for Breakfast blog:

The Texas Monthly Article and What It Tells Us About Our State

Ms. Colloff has written a truly excellent article that will tell you just about everything you need to know about Anthony Graves and his case. Readers of Grits should take a look at this piece. It’s well worth the price of the magazine.

I’m not going to discuss the facts of Anthony’s case much here- I want you to read the whole article. I will say that I was privileged to be part of a team of IPOT lawyers that represented Mr. Graves pro bono and that Ms. Colloff’s report is even-handed and accurate.

Anthony Graves was a nice guy who grew up in Brenham. He was well-liked and responsible. In 1992, an entire family was stabbed and bludgeoned to death in Somerville, a small town not far from Brenham. The trailer they lived in was torched. A man named Robert Carter was apprehended a few days later. The evidence against Carter was strong: he had a motive to kill the victims since they were costing him child-support money, he had gasoline burns all over himself, and he had been busy destroying evidence in the days after the murder. The problem was that by the time he got arrested the police and prosecutors had already decided that there had to be others involved in the crime. This “theory”, which was at best a hunch and had been arrived at without any forensic investigation, became their case. Like many prosecutors, police, and presidents in our history they decided to fix the facts to fit their theory- the same sort of behavior that we see over and over again in wrongful conviction cases. This meant that they had to get Carter to say that others were involved- if he didn’t, they would have had to admit their “theory” was untrue and lose face with the locals. After hours of questioning, Carter finally gave them the name of Anthony Graves.

Texas Rangers arrested Mr. Graves shortly thereafter and put him in jail for capital murder, where he has been ever since. The case against him was based on the word of Carter and virtually nothing else- read Ms. Colloff’s article and you will see what this "case" looked like.

That was fine for the State of Texas- it has certainly killed people with less evidence than that. The problem was that Carter began recanting his story and told prosecutors that he would tell the jury in Mr. Graves’s trial that Mr. Graves was innocent. That was the sort of thing that might ruin a perfectly good execution, so the state responded by sweating Carter the night before trial and threatening to make him testify against his wife. After several hours of this kind of "trial preparation", Carter agreed to tell the State’s version of what happened. He did so the next day. Prosecutors covered up what had happened with the recantations and threats- evidence vital to the defense- and got their conviction and death penalty. Mr. Graves went off to death row.

In the months that followed, Carter told anyone who would listen- which was just about nobody-that he had lied about Mr. Graves to tell the prosecutors what they wanted to hear. Carter was eventually executed. Minutes before he died, he told the world again that Mr. Graves was innocent. His last words: “It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court.”

Years later, as a result of the truly heroic unpaid efforts of a lawyer and St. Thomas professor named Nicole Casarez (disclaimer here: Nicole is a very close friend of mine and a co-founder of IPOT) and despite the aggressive efforts of prosecutors, all of this came out. Mr. Graves narrowly avoided being executed because the federal courts intervened.

Ms. Colloff’s article describes the extraordinary ins-and-outs of a legal process that involved many fine lawyers working for years on the case. These lawyers- Pat McCann, Roy Greenwood, Jay Burnett, Ms. Casarez and others- barely saved their client’s life. They were ablocked and challenged by prosecutors at every stage of the proceedings.

Ms. Colloff also describes how little any of the legal wrangling has meant to Mr. Graves in practical terms. Eighteen years later, he is still in jail despite his new trial. New pro bono lawyers, of which I was one, have defended him. Mr. Graves now has the stellar legal team of Katherine Scardino and Jimmy Phillips, Jr. on his side. (Disclaimer again: these are both good friends of mine and Ms. Scardino is a member of the Board of Directors of IPOT.)

Ms. Colloff tells this story very well and in a way that makes sense to the average reader. She does more than that, however: she puts it into perspective. Why did Mr. Graves get charged in the first place? Why did the State cover up the truth about Carter’s recantations? Why did the State fight so hard to execute Mr. Graves despite all of the problems it had created? Why does it still insist on trying this plainly innocent man for capital murder?
More information on the case is at the website:  http://www.anthonygraves.org

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