The Texas Defender Service announced today that the State Bar of Texas has found “just cause” to review allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta, Jr. for his 1994 capital prosecution of Anthony Graves, for which Graves was eventually exonerated.
Graves spent 18 years in prison, more than 12 on death row, for murders he did not commit and of which he was ultimately declared innocent. Sebesta prosecuted and convicted Graves (along with other defendants) for a 1992 multiple murder in Somerville, and during his lengthy incarceration, Graves was twice scheduled for execution. His conviction was overturned in 2002, and he was ultimately exonerated altogether in October of 2010.
Prosecutors reviewing the case (Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham, and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler of Harris County) found not only that Graves was innocent, but that Sebesta had engaged in what Siegler called the “worst” prosecutorial misconduct she had ever seen. As Jordan Smith reported for the Chronicle in 2010, Siegler told reporters, “Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare. It's a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial." There was never any physical evidence tying Graves to the murders, and he had an alibi for the night they occurred.
Nevertheless, Sebesta continues to insist Graves is guilty, and on a web site he maintains continues to attack Graves (and Parham and Siegler) as conspiring against him and the rule of law. Of the prosecutors, he writes: “They needed to perpetuate their argument by destroying my credibility and convincing everyone that Charles Sebesta had committed numerous acts of ‘Prosecutorial Misconduct’ in obtaining the conviction. With an anti-death penalty, liberal media ‘lapping up’ everything they said, that wouldn’t be too difficult. In fact, it would become a ‘feeding frenzy’ of half-truths and lies.” [quotation marks in original]
According to a statement released by Kathryn Kase, executive director of TDS and counsel to Graves, Sebesta elected to have his case heard by an administrative judge, meaning the proceedings will remain confidential pending a decision; had he agreed to have the case heard before a state district judge, the proceedings would have been public. Kase added, “The State Bar of Texas has power to sanction Charles Sebesta for his unethical conduct, up to and including disbarment and loss of his license to practice law in Texas.”
Kase continued, “As yet unresolved is whether this rogue prosecutor will be held accountable for his violations of law, ethical misconduct, and breaches of the public trust. Texas citizens deserve to be represented by zealous prosecutors, but only those who follow the rule of law, and who respect the presumption of innocence.”
In a statement also released by Kase, Graves noted that Sebesta has refused to accept Graves' exoneration and continues to insist he is a murderer and attack his character. “I sought justice for a long time while imprisoned, having to trust the court system and the legal profession to care about justice, and to do the right thing,” Graves said. “I am glad to see the State Bar of Texas now act favorably on my grievance at this stage. I am confident that the Bar will discipline Mr. Sebesta for his misconduct and do whatever it can to stop him from continuing to persecute me, a completely innocent man.”
For more on the history of the Anthony Graves case, see Jordan Smith’s coverage in the Chronicle archives.
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