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Graves Sues for Innocence

Anthony Graves is seeking to have his name finally cleared

By Jordan Smith, 12:38PM, Mon. Feb. 28, 2011

Graves Sues for Innocence
Photo by Nicole Casarez

Lawyers for Anthony Graves have filed a petition seeking, once and for all, to have Graves declared an innocent man.

Lawyers with the Texas Civil Rights Project and the Innocence Project of Texas, along with lawyer Nicole Casarez – whose journalism class at the University of St. Thomas was integral to having Graves' conviction overturned – have filed the petition with the Travis County Civil District Court of Judge Gisela Triana-Doyal, seeking to have Graves declared "actually innocent" and to have his "name cleared and reputation restored" under Article I of the Texas Constitution – a move that, if successful, could clear the way for Graves to receive compensation from the state for the years he spent wrongfully incarcerated.

Graves was convicted of a grisly 1992 multiple murder in Sommerville and spent 18 years behind bars – 12 of them on death row – before all charges against him were finally dropped late last year. Graves' conviction was originally overturned by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006, after the court found that his trial had been tainted by prosecutorial misconduct. Nonetheless – and without any physical evidence tying Graves to the crime – Burleson County officials vowed to retry Graves. And so it was until last October, when special prosecutor Kelly Siegler (a former assistant district attorney in Harris County) along with Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham (who'd tapped Siegler to retry the case) declared that Graves was not guilty of the six murders. Graves' case was "horrible," Siegler said, and in order to convict Graves in 1994, then Burleson County D.A. Charles Sebesta had engaged in the "worst" prosecutorial misconduct she'd ever seen. "Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare," Siegler told reporters after Graves' release. "It's a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial."

Subsequently, Graves sought compensation from the state's wrongful conviction fund, but was denied the money by Comptroller Susan Combs because, her officer wrote in a letter to Graves, he had not actually been declared innocent.

That denial has forced Graves' defenders to plow "new legal ground" to find a way to get a court to declare him innocent. "Anthony's case is so important that we're going to have to plow new legal ground" in order to get him the relief he deserves, said Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for the IPOT. Indeed, Blackburn said he isn't aware of any other Texas case where a former defendant has asked for a declaratory judgment proclaiming innocence. "That's what we're doing and I think we're going to win."

The Texas Attorney General will be asked to respond to the suit – and whether they will agree or will instead force the issue – and a public hearing on the matter – remains to be seen.

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