Friday, January 28, 2011

'A Change Is Gonna Come'

by Katherine Scardino

My client, Anthony Graves, walked out of the Burleson County Jail on October 27,  2010, after having been incarcerated in jail and prison for a whopping total of 18 years.  Out of those 18 years, Anthony was on death row for 14.  Can you close your eyes and imagine how long 14 years is?  And, being locked in a box for that long for a crime that you know in your heart you did not commit.  I cannot imagine the confusion and terror that must build inside after only a very short period of time, not to mention 18 years.

Anthony Graves is free. But what now? Although no amount of money can replace nearly two decades of an innocent man's life, it seems obvious that the state of Texas should take some responsibility for this egregious wrongful conviction and imprisonment. In 2001, Texas passed a law that provided exonerated people monetary compensation for every year they were wrongfully imprisoned. This law awarded exonerated prisoners $25,000 for every year of wrongful incarceration, with a maximum allowance of $500,000 per person. Of course, this was only for wrongful incarceration claims that were approved through the state comptroller's office. From 2001 to 2006, only about half of the claims submitted were approved.

In May 2009, Texas passed the Tim Cole Compensation Act.  This legislation was named after and inspired by Timothy Cole, an inmate who was wrongfully convicted for rape and who received a 25-year sentence.  Mr. Cole died in prison in 1999, at age 39, from a heart attack, after spending 13 years locked up.  Naming a piece of Texas legislation after this man hardly seems like enough to do much for his family’s feelings.  But, this act did, in fact, increase the annual amount a wrongfully convicted man receives for each year, spent behind bars for doing nothing, from $50,000 to $80,000. In addition, the act also provides health insurance and college tuition. However, if someone accepts the state compensation, they lose their right to file a civil lawsuit against the State of Texas. Also, any wrongly incarcerated person who went on to commit other crimes would not be eligible for the compensation.

Currently, Anthony Graves should receive $80,000 for each year he was incarcerated.  That adds up to right under $1.5 million dollars.  I suppose we could discuss how much is really enough, but that may be for another day.  Unfortunately, there is a snafu with Anthony's claim to the state for compensation.

Last October, the district attorney and his special prosecutor held a press conference and stated that after a thorough investigation of the case, they were dismissing the indictment of capital murder against Anthony.  They both said that Anthony Graves was actually innocent of the charge of capital murder.  An Order of Dismissal was prepared by the district attorney and presented to the judge for her signature.  The order stated the following: “We have found no credible evidence which inculpates this defendant.” It was signed by both the district attorney and the judge.  Anthony Graves was released from the county jail that day, and we picked him up and took him home.

Now, several months later and after applying to the proper authorities for the funds under the Tim Cole Compensation Act, we have learned that there may be a problem.  The state has not yet officially responded to our application for funds, but the defense attorneys are anticipating a serious roadblock. We have been told that the words "actual innocence "must be included on the order of dismissal.

To try and straighten out this technical difficulty, we timely prepared and submitted to the district attorney of Burleson County an amended order of dismissal that included those two magic words--words that he had used in front of cameras last October.  Bill Parham, the DA, refused to sign the amended order, which would have assured that Anthony would be eligible for these funds. This is despite the fact that he had no problem discussing Anthony's innocence with the media on the day of the news conference. 

So, here we are, waiting and hoping for a miracle.  Anthony Graves has been learning a lot about life since October.  He has a new computer, a cell phone, a flat-screen television, and most recently, a used car to call his own, and even a job.  Most of those items were gifts to him from his lawyers, family and friends.  It is hard to walk out of jail or prison after 18 years and be expected to simply get a job.  He did not even know how to send an e-mail, God forbid.

But, he will overcome these hardships. Anthony Graves always has met, pondered and mastered the greatest adversities imaginable.  There are some good things that are happening to him, also.  He has spoken at several functions around Texas about his life experiences to try and convince young people to be careful about who they run with and what they put in their bodies.  He wants to do what he can to change lives.  And, he can.  

CBS’ 48 Hours is doing a special program on Anthony's conviction and release.  They have interviewed many people having to do with his case--even the DA who caused the entire fiasco.  Anthony told the reporter that when he was on death row, he entertained himself by singing, and eventually she convinced him to sing the song for her. I spoke with her yesterday and she described for me the scene when Anthony began singing for her and seemingly forgot the cameras were on.  He closed his eyes, and as tears fell down both cheeks, he sang  from his soul A Change is Gonna Come.   She started crying; I started crying.  There but for the Grace of God go I--or you.  

There been times that I thought I couldn't last for long
But now I think I'm able to carry on
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will 

- Sam Cooke

1 comment:

DrGina said...

Amazing story Katherine!