Anthony Graves is now 46 years old. He was sentenced in 1994 by a jury to die for committing capital murder in Texas and has been incarcerated since August 1992. In 2006, his conviction was overturned by the appellate court for prosecutorial misconduct. The misconduct was the state’s failure to tell the defense that the co-defendant had been trying to tell the prosecution for a long time that he lied on Anthony, saying that Anthony Graves had nothing to do with this case. The co-defendant was also tried by a jury and sentenced to death. In 2000, he was executed. While lying on the gurney, waiting for his lethal injection, he turned to the people watching this killing, and announced, again, that Anthony Graves had nothing to do with this crime. That is about as powerful a statement as you can get.
One week ago, I received a call from the prosecutor. She told me she was dismissing the case against my client, Anthony Graves. I lost my breath. It was an astonishing statement to hear in a case like this. Anthony’s defense team has been fighting for his innocence for years. I have been on this case only three years, and there have been other lawyers before me. My co-counsel, Jimmy Phillips, Jr., and each and every one of those dedicated, smart lawyers told me that we were representing an innocent man. And, I do not mean “technically” innocent, or “not proven,” or that the evidence was lost, stolen or somehow dissipated over the years. I mean really purely innocent. He did not commit this crime.
So, what happened to make a newly appointed, seasoned, tough prosecutor make such a pronouncement? Especially knowing that it would be one she would have to defend. It is very simple. She and her investigator actually investigated. One would assume that in 1992, when he was accused of this crime, there would have been an investigation. There was, but the investigation was skewed by unethical, dishonest law enforcement and prosecutors who heard what the co-defendant said and believed that the case was over. Nothing would stand in the way of finalizing a serious case in this small county--not even an alibi by the accused.
But, then, there was Anthony’s trial in 1994. Was there some investigation done in that year? No. How about in 2006 after the judges sitting on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans reversed this case for a totally new trial? One would think the powers that be in this particular county would do some re-thinking about their position. Sadly, it was not done then either.
Only now, with a jury trial looming in the not-so-distant future, did the prosecution think that perhaps a serious investigation needed to be done. This time it was--and it was done right. This prosecutor and her investigator talked to every person involved in this case. They turned over every stone and looked at every piece of paper. In the end, there was no other conclusion but that Anthony Graves was innocent.
I have been asking myself how I really feel about the awesome experience of seeing this man walk free in the sunshine, wearing a sports jacket and slacks, hugging his mother for the first time in 18 years. I think I am angry. I am angry because people were lazy and ignorant. Anthony is black, he was in a small community and it was 1992. I do not need to say anymore. No one cared. No one wanted to go out of their way to be absolutely certain that all the proper work had been done. And, it wasn’t.
Someone asked me last week, "Does this dismissal reinforce your belief in the criminal justice system?" My response was, “No, it scares the hell out of me.” If one mean-spirited prosecutor, who had the power to make life and death decisions, could do this to my client, he or someone like him could do it to your son or daughter, husband or wife. Then, we had our Governor make a statement like “this shows that our criminal justice system worked.” I tracked down the reporter who published that story and I told him that Gov. Rick Perry had to be joking. How could he say that the system worked, after an innocent person spent 18 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit? Not to mention that 14 of those years were spent on death row, where Anthony lived in a box and was fed through a slit in the door, with one hour a day alone in an alley-like place where he was exposed to the sunshine.
But, enough about me and my feelings--what about Anthony Graves? How is he doing? Absolutely amazing! This man never gave up hope. He always believed that he would win his freedom one day; he just did not know when that day would come. He maintained his dignity and integrity throughout, which is obvious to anyone who has a conversation with him now. Anthony says he does not want to give those people any more of his energy. No bad feelings from Anthony. He wants to get on with what is ahead of him now during the last half of his life. They took away his best years. You know, those years where you get married, raise children, play baseball with your son. He missed all that. But, he is not angry. One reporter asked him, “What now? Are you going to sue the county? Are you going to try and get your compensation from the state?” Anthony said all he wanted to do was “seek justice.” Personally, I hope that this justice involves compensation from the state.
I think justice would be best served if the prosecutor who failed to investigate this case during his tenure, which caused Anthony’s conviction, would spend 18 years of his life in prison. I suppose I have all the anger that Anthony refuses to acknowledge. That is probably good. Anger at ignorant, arrogant people is a dead-end street. But, in this case, it will be a while before I can say that I am no longer furious at the people responsible for this travesty.