This Week in Innocence

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Texas has released a death row inmate.

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.

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.”

Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Earl Carter in killing a 45-year-old woman, her daughter, and her four grandchildren in 1992. Carter initially implicated Graves, but later recanted. Carter again insisted Graves was innocent just before he was executed in 2000. The man who prosecuted Graves apparently still believes he is guilty.

Charles Sebesta, then the district attorney, did not believe Carter. Even after he no longer held the post, Sebesta held to his beliefs, calling Graves “cold-blooded” and taking out an ad in two Burleson County newspapers in 2009 to dispute media reports criticizing the conduct of prosecutors.

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.

“I’ve had some slam-dunk cases,” he said in 2001. “It was not a slam-dunk case.”

Yet he still sought—and won—a death sentence. (Sebesta has had problems in other cases, too.)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned Graves’ conviction, noting the considerable weakness of the state’s case against him. That court also found that Sebasta withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony. Yet as late as last year, prosecutors were still seeking to retry Graves anyway, this time based largely on a “scent lineup,” in which they used dogs to sniff out burnt clothing removed from a 17-year-old crime scene.

…prosecutors this summer brought in Fort Bend County Deputy Keith Pikett to conduct a “scent lineup” – a practice of dubious scientific validity that was recently the subject of a scathing report from the Lubbock-based Innocence Project of Texas. This type of lineup, with dogs supposedly matching a scent from a crime scene to a scent collected from a suspect, is junk science, the Innocence Project charges, while questioning Pikett’s techniques in conducting the dog-led lineup. The procedure has indeed been implicated in a number of wrongful arrests and convictions. According to the report, released Sept. 21, Pikett has no formal training in the practice – nor does he apparently think any is necessary. Pikett has testified in court (in a matter unrelated to Graves) that there is no need for formal training or for scientific rules or protocols when conducting such lineups, and Pikett has rejected the importance of scientific studies regarding scent identification. Nonetheless, prosecutors across the state – including with the Texas Attorney General’s Office – have relied on Pikett for “expert testimony” in a number of criminal cases.

I’ve previously written about Deputy Pikett and the junk science of scent linups here and here.

But hey, Graves was eventually exonerated and released, right? As Justice Scalia would assure us, this case is just more proof that the system is working.

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30 Responses to “This Week in Innocence”

  1. #1 |  Cynical in CA | 

    “Charles Sebesta, then the district attorney, did not believe Carter. Even after he no longer held the post, Sebesta held to his beliefs, calling Graves “cold-blooded” and taking out an ad in two Burleson County newspapers in 2009 to dispute media reports criticizing the conduct of prosecutors.”

    Is there anyone who obstinately believes his own bullshit more than a prosecutor?

    This case sounds like the LA case we read about a week ago or so, the guy convicted of killing his mother and spending 19 years in prison.

    Face it folks, we live in a prosecutarchy.

  2. #2 |  Charlie O | 

    And this my friends, is why I oppose the death penalty. The system is corrupt, or at least people within it, and always will be. The state should not have license to commit murder in my name.

  3. #3 |  SJE | 

    So the former DA takes out adds in the newspaper calling for the guy’s execution, coz he believe it in his heart, while the Fifth Circuit finds that the DA withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony.

    So, can someone remind me why we have prosecutorial immunity?

  4. #4 |  qwints | 

    At least the current DA seems to be somewhat sane.

  5. #5 |  Brian | 

    I’m not a lawyer, but is there any way to use the ads that Sebesta placed after he was no longer prosecutor to package up all of the stuff that he did do while he was prosecutor into some kind of “in furtherance of” charge?

    I’m guessing not, but I wish there was some way to hold him accountable for stealing 18 years of a man’s life.

  6. #6 |  Aresen | 

    Cynical in CA | October 28th, 2010 at 12:08 pm

    Is there anyone who obstinately believes his own bullshit more than a prosecutor?

    I can think of quite a few:
    1) Creationists
    2) Anti-vaccination crusaders
    3) Anti-nuclear activists
    4) Religious Fundamentalists
    5) Marxist College Professors

    *Stands back. Waits for bunfight to begin.*

  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Aresen,
    I was going to add Cop Union Spokesmen, but then I remembered that they know their bullshit is bullshit.

    So, I’ll add Al Gore to your list.

  8. #8 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    “He said: ‘Mama, it’s over. Mama, 18 years we’ve fought this fight a long time. It’s over. Justice has been done for me.’ ”

    Congrats on your release, Anthony Graves, but I disagree that justice has been done for you.

  9. #9 |  Cynical in CA | 

    Agreed Boyd.

    Justice was done TO him.

  10. #10 |  Lucy | 

    Well, he’s alive and free (er). That’s a good start.

    Justice seems a tad strong of a word…

  11. #11 |  MacK | 

    I get the 404 error from the here and here links.

  12. #12 |  Andrew S. | 

    There was a good article earlier this week in the (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Sun-Sentinel about James Bain, and his life after he was released from prison last year after serving 35 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit:

    http://www.sun-sentinel.com/health/os-innocence-bain-20101023,0,634595.story

  13. #13 |  Rhayader | 

    Haha, a scent lineup. Why not just hire a guy with a dowsing rod or a tarot card reader?

    The only thing worse than the fact that prosecutors rely so heavily on pure junk “science” is that they’re so successful in doing so. Really, if you’re sitting on a jury, how do you not just laugh out loud at some of this shit?

  14. #14 |  Pete | 

    So the former DA takes out adds in the newspaper calling for the guy’s execution, coz he believe it in his heart, while the Fifth Circuit finds that the DA withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony.

    So, can someone remind me why we have prosecutorial immunity?

    So DAs can take out ads calling for executions, while at the same time withholding exculpatory evidence and deliberately promoting false testimony, and get away with it?

    Are you some sort of D&D playing Satan worshipping anarchist? I don’t even want to think about what kind of world this would be if prosecutors had to worry about honesty, integrity, ethics, disclosing exculpatory evidence, and refraining from turning matters of justice and law into matters of public opinion.

  15. #15 |  Pete | 

    So the former DA takes out adds in the newspaper calling for the guy’s execution, coz he believe it in his heart, while the Fifth Circuit finds that the DA withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony.

    So, can someone remind me why we have prosecutorial immunity?

    So DAs can take out ads calling for executions, while at the same time withholding exculpatory evidence and deliberately promoting false testimony, and get away with it?

    Are you some sort of D&D playing Satan worshipping anarchist? I don’t even want to think about what kind of world this would be if prosecutors had to worry about honesty, integrity, ethics, disclosing exculpatory evidence, and refraining from turning matters of justice and law into matters of public opinion.

  16. #16 |  Toonhead | 

    Wouldn’t placing the ads in the paper constitute slander?

  17. #17 |  Whim | 

    Say, what government agency does Mr. Graves visit to reclaim the one-half of his life that he lost in prison?

    The Office of the Fairy-Dust Princess, Austin, Texas?

    Funny, in Europe the testimony of jailhouse snitches is afforded no credibility by the courts. None. Here, they are common.

    Yeah sure. Think it through. A guy awaiting trial for murder spills his inner most thoughts and confesses to a fellow jail inmate. Happens all the time here. MUST be true. And, just coincidentally, the charges against the snitch are dropped or reduced immediately after he convicts his fellow inmate.

    One more problem. Our state judgeships are dominated by former prosecutors. Wouldn’t that give you a warm feeling knowing that the judge hearing your case made a living putting people on Death Row……?

    Welcome to our system of injustice…..

  18. #18 |  SamK | 

    No one expects the…! oh, hell, i give up. Reality trumps fantasy every time.

  19. #19 |  pam | 

    442 F.3d 334, *2006 U.S. App. LEXIS 5…

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    4 District Attorney Sebesta contradicted Graves’ counsel and testified at the habeas hearing that he told Graves’ defense counsel Garvie of this statement outside the courtroom the morning after Carter made the statement. The district court did not find Sebesta credible on this point.

    Imagine that, a prosecutor who is not credible. In otherwords, he’s a liar and under oath.

  20. #20 |  pam | 

    sorry, I meant to put the part of the opinoin I posted in quotes. It’s from Part III (a).

  21. #21 |  pam | 

    more from the opinion:

    “- – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    [**18] Perhaps even more egregious than District Attorney Sebesta’s failure to disclose Carter’s most recent statement is his deliberate trial tactic of eliciting testimony from Carter and the chief investigating officer, Ranger Coffman, that the D.A. knew was false and designed affirmatively to lead the jury to believe that Carter made no additional statement tending to exculpate Graves. District Attorney Sebesta asked Carter to confirm that, with the exception of his grand jury testimony where he denied everything, he had always implicated Graves as being with him in [*342] committing the murders. Carter answered in the affirmative. Sebesta also asked Ranger Coffman, after Carter testified, to confirm that all of Carter’s statements except the grand jury testimony implicated Graves. Sebesta also confirmed through Ranger Coffman that he understood his obligation to bring to the prosecutor’s attention any evidence favorable to the defense. Although there is no factual finding regarding whether Ranger Coffman knew of Carter’s statement that he committed the crimes alone, Sebesta clearly knew of the statement and used Ranger Coffman as well as Carter to present a picture of Carter’s consistency in [**19] naming Graves that Sebesta clearly knew was false.”

    Imagine that, a prosecutor knowingly presenting false evidence to a jury who will ultimately decide whether a person lives or dies. And it’s Texas so that means most likely death.

  22. #22 |  Sky | 

    “District Attorney Sebesta withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony.”

    Any bets on his punishment? Oh wait, there won’t be any! Nevermind.

  23. #23 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Whim,
    From the stories I’ve heard, the snitch doesn’t even have to talk to the suspect. The snitch is approached by cops and a deal is struck: here’s what they want him to say he heard…and here’s what he’ll get in exchange. The snitch shows up on the “official record” as having been in the same facility as the suspect and viola!

  24. #24 |  BamBam | 

    snitch blog that Radley advertised some months ago
    http://www.snitching.org

  25. #25 |  delta | 

    Bit of a news hijack — NPR reports on how Arizona immigration law was drafted by ALEC and the Corrections Corporation of America (largest private prison company in the country, whose own reports say expect “a significant portion of our revenues” to grow from new prisons to hold immigrants).

    Staff director self-describes the group as: “ALEC is the conservative, free-market orientated, limited-government group.”

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130833741

  26. #26 |  Steve Verdon | 

    That court also found that Sebasta withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense and knowingly put on false testimony.

    What a shock.

    Pikett has testified in court (in a matter unrelated to Graves) that there is no need for formal training or for scientific rules or protocols when conducting such lineups, and Pikett has rejected the importance of scientific studies regarding scent identification.

    Evidence schmevidence who needs that bullshit. Just beat the guy with a rubber hose till he confesses.

    BTW the links to previous scent line ups/police dogs articles aren’t working.

  27. #27 |  gDavid | 

    Me thinks that this former DA should have to test the chemicals that Obama’s Pet Justice said wasn’t safe for use. I think that DA’s who have a case tossed like this by not being honest and truthful should have to do the maximun penalty that the defendant could be given WITHOUT any appeal, if death, shoot them.

  28. #28 |  albatross | 

    Wait, you mean powerful people who abuse their powers to wreck other peoples’ lives and fortunes don’t suffer consequences in America? When did this happen?

  29. #29 |  Joe | 

    “I’ve had some slam-dunk cases,” he said in 2001. “It was not a slam-dunk case.

    And Charles Sebasta chose to pursue the death penalty? That should be a crime.

  30. #30 |  In Which You Discover Only What The State Thinks You Should | The Agitator | 

    […] gulf between what should happen and what does happen in the criminal justice system. Prosecutors withhold exculpatory evidence all the time, usually without […]

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