HOUSTON – It was a day of celebration for Anthony Graves. After 18 years of wrongful imprisonment and two execution dates, he will finally be compensated for the Texas injustice.
Govenor Rick Perry signed legislation in early June that will allow Anthony Graves to receive $1.4 million in state compensation for a wrongful capital murder conviction that left him behind bars for 18 years.
Graves says it has been a tortuous journey home from the hell that is Texas death row and in order for his fight to be over, he needs one more thing from the State of Texas.
Houston abolitionists, local activists, and members of the peace and justice movement welcomed Graves to the Shape Community Center on Sunday afternoon.
While Graves says the $1.4 million will help him build a new life, it can’t replace his loss of freedom.
“I’m happy about the money, but let’s not forget, it’s not the lottery that I won; I lost 18 years of my life and if I had a choice between the money and the 18 years, I would take the 18 years,” said Graves.
After 18 years of fighting, Graves says there is one more thing he wants — his name cleared.
“What I wish now is for the State of Texas to give me some type of decree that says I’m actually innocent, then that’s when the fight is over for me, this particular fight,” said Graves. “I filed a lawsuit against the Attorney General’s office asking them to do just that and it seems like it’s going to be a fight just to get that done.”
Since Graves walked free from prison in October 2010, he has been a busy man. He works as an investigator for the Texas Defender service in Austin and he recently traveled to Europe for a speaking tour. But he says it has been hard fitting into today’s society.
“Everything, your sense of direction, you’ve been gone for 18 years and then it’s like, they take you and just throw you on a new planet and say, ‘Survive the best way you can,’ so you come out of there you see technologies has changed, everything around you has changed, what you may have taken advantage of every day, is still kind of scary to me,” said Graves.
“The State did the right thing by finally compensating Mr. Graves after taking most of his adult life away from him,” said TCRP Prisoners’ Rights Attorney Brian McGiverin.
“It’s a shame it took years of appeals, action by the legislature, and a lawsuit to see justice was done.” Mr. Graves’ lawsuit remains pending to clarify he is completely innocent of the crimes.
As for his future, he is doing what he wants to be doing, fighting against the very institution that almost took his life away, the death penalty.
“Everybody’s focused on the money, but what about the fact that I almost lost my life, what about the 18 years that was stolen from me, what are we going to do about that? How are we going to make sure that if doesn’t happen to your neighbor, friend or dad, this is not a feel-good moment, it’s bittersweet for me, because I gave up so much, just to get a little,” said Graves. “I almost lost my life. Where’s the outrage?”
“This chose me, I didn’t choose it. It chose me, and now it’s given me some sense of purpose and direction in how I want to live my life and where I want to take it,” said Graves. He will not receive the $1.4 million dollars all at once.
Graves will get $80,000 every year for the next 18 years. He said he will spend some money on his mother, but he’s going to be very frugal and wise with the rest.
Graves Gets $1.45 Million
BY JORDAN SMITH
In the wake of Gov. Rick Perry’s signing of a bill that would tweak the circumstances under which the wrongfully convicted may access state compensation, Comptroller Susan Combs announced this afternoon that Anthony Graves has now been given $1.45 million for the time he spent in prison.
“I am delighted we have been able to pay Anthony Graves the compensation he deserves for wrongful imprisonment,” Combs said in a press release. “I directed my staff to draft language to amend the law and work with the Governor’s office, the Attorney General and Sen. Rodney Ellis [D-Houston] to ensure Mr. Graves got the money to help him continue rebuilding his life.”
In addition to the $1.45 million in compensation for the 18 years he spent behind bars — the majority of them on death row — Graves will also receive monthly annuity checks, Combs reports.
This is the latest chapter in the saga of Graves’ attempts to be made whole for the time he spent wrongly incarcerated for a multiple murder in Sommerville. Though he was finally freed last year, Graves was blocked from receiving state compensation because of a technicality: Prosecutors had proclaimed Graves innocent and dropped the charges, but the court had not officially dubbed Graves an innocent man, as Combs said was required by Texas law.
To add insult to injury, AG Greg Abbott then came after him for back child support payments that had accumulated over his years in prison. Graves was in court last month to fight to release the money and to have the AG back off. The state argued that the case was moot, in part because of the pending legislation (House Bill 417) that would retool the law to capture cases like Graves’ and free up compensation. At the time, Graves’ lawyers were not inclined to drop the case — after all, whether Perry would actually sign the bill into law was still up in the air.
As it turns out, Perry did come through for Graves — and now, it seems, so has Combs. “I want to thankâ€¦Combs for the leadership she showed in securing my claim,” Graves said in the Combs press release. “Though the initial denial of my claim was frustrating, I know the Comptroller had no choice. As we worked with the Comptroller on this issue, I realized she and her staff are committed to helping me make up for my years lost in prison.”
The Wrong Way To Right a Wrongful Conviction
BY JORDAN SMITH
Lawyers for Anthony Graves — wrongly convicted in 1994 for the murder of a family in Somerville and finally freed late last year — were in court May 26, facing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which is trying to have Graves’ suit tossed out of court. Graves filed the suit as part of an effort to restore his reputation and clear the way to receiving more than a million dollars in compensation from the state for the nearly two decades he spent behind bars.
Anthony Graves with Attorneys at TCRP Office
Graves was convicted of the 1992 murders based almost entirely on the testimony of Robert Carter, who said Graves helped him kill Bobbie Joyce Davis, her daughter, and four grandchildren (one of whom was actually Carter’s son). Carter later recanted, saying that Graves wasn’t involved in the crime, but then-Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta failed to notify Graves of that fact. (Carter was executed for the crime in 2000.)
In 2006, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction based on Sebesta’s misconduct. Nonetheless, the state vowed to retry him and kept him locked up for four more years while prosecutors from the A.G.’s Office tried to build a new case. It then left the case, and in its place the court appointed former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler.
In October 2010, Siegler and the Burleson D.A. dismissed the charges; Siegler publicly announced that Graves was innocent and that the case against him was a “travesty.” Yet, because a court had not deemed Graves actually innocent, Comptroller Susan Combs denied Graves access to compensation for his wrongful conviction.
Lawmakers this session acted to change the compensation statute to ensure that Graves and others like him would be eligible for the up to $80,000 per year for every year spent behind bars — but that provision (part of House Bill 417) is still awaiting the signature of Gov. Rick Perry.
As such, Graves’ lawyers argue, there is nothing certain about his ability to collect from the state, but meanwhile, Graves needs his reputation restored, they argued before Travis County District Judge Orlinda Naranjo last week. “We are here because Mr. Graves suffered constitutional injury to his reputation,” attorney Brian McGiverin, among the attorneys representing Graves, told the court.
Assistant A.G. Joshua Godbey argued, however, that Naranjo should essentially toss the suit: Graves should have appealed the comptroller’s denial of his claim to the Texas Supreme Court instead of suing the A.G. Moreover, he said, a civil court is hardly the right venue for Graves to seek a declaration that he is actually innocent of the Somerville murders. The criminal appeal process is the “sole means by which you can get a verdict of actual innocence,” he said.
“Mr. Graves went through that process … and had arguments for actual innocence [heard by various appeals courts], all of which were rejected by those courts.” (Godbey also argued that because HB 417 has passed, the case is essentially moot — but with the bill still awaiting Perry’s signature, Naranjo seemed disinclined to agree with the A.G. on that point.)
But the primary purpose of the suit, argued McGiverin, is “about restoring Anthony’s name” — a right guaranteed by the Texas Constitution — making the civil court the perfect place to obtain a declaratory judgement that would do just that.
Graves might not be in prison any longer, McGiverin said, but that doesn’t mean the damage to his reputation isn’t still real; indeed, Graves’ original prosecutor, Sebesta, still has a website that declares Graves is actually guilty of the Somerville murders. Graves couldn’t take this grievance to a criminal court any more than a person seeking redress for libel would.
Also at issue is Abbott’s attempt to collect some $30,000 in back child support from Graves for the time he was in prison. Under the state’s plan for compensating the wrongfully convicted, in addition to the monetary payout for exonerees, the state also agrees to pay the back child support, transferring money from the comptroller to the A.G.’s Office, where it can be paid out.
Graves argues that Abbott, as the state’s top law enforcer, can make his own determination about Graves’ guilt in order to take care of the child support payments, and also has the ability to not pursue Graves for the money at this point. But Godbey says Abbott’s office is “duty bound to attempt to collect that debt.” But, argued McGiverin, “there is nothing in the statute that says the attorney general can’t come to an independent conclusion that [the] conditions are satisfied [as to Graves' innocence] in order to pay the child support” with state funds.
Naranjo did not rule from the bench but has taken the case under advisement; there is no deadline for her ruling.