Anthony Graves Update

10th Court of Appeals says if it has to, it will vacate the gag order that is improperly curtailing the free speech of Graves, awaiting a retrial for capital murder

A three-judge panel of the 10th Court of Appeals in Waco concluded on March 21 that if state district Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett fails to vacate the gag order that improperly curtails the free speech of Anthony Graves, who is awaiting a retrial for capital murder, the court will use its power to do so. By imposing the overly broad gag order – barring everyone associated with the case, including Graves, from speaking out about it – Towslee-Corbett "committed a clear abuse of discretion," Judge Felipe Reyna wrote for the two-judge majority. Towslee-Corbett failed to follow the law in that she did not "make sufficiently specific findings" supporting the need for restraining Graves' right to free speech. Under controlling Texas law, a gag order is a prior restraint of free speech that is "presumptively unconstitutional," absent specific evidence that the gag is necessary to prevent "imminent and irreparable" harm to the outcome of the trial, and is the "least restrictive means" to prevent that harm.

Graves was convicted and condemned to die for the 1992 murder of six people inside a home that officials said was set ablaze to cover the crime. Graves has maintained his innocence, and last year the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out his conviction and death sentence, ruling that Burleson Co. prosecutors withheld from Graves' defense crucial evidence that could have changed the outcome of the trial. The Burleson Co. District Attorney's Office has recused itself from handling the retrial and instead the case will be handled by special prosecutor Patrick Batchelor, who last week announced he would again seek a death sentence for Graves. How exactly Batchelor intends to do that is unknown, since there appears to be some question about what evidence the state has to prove its case. For example, although the state has said that executed inmate Robert Carter implicated Graves as his accomplice in the multiple murder, Carter more than once denied this claim – including shortly before his execution. Now, of course, Carter would be unavailable to testify. Indeed, late last year, Chief Texas Ranger Ray Coffman told the court – no fewer than five times, reports the Houston Chronicle – that Carter repeatedly told him that Graves was not involved in the murder. But at a pretrial hearing earlier this month, Coffman changed his testimony, reportedly saying that Carter never made any such statement. In short, what evidence there is to conclusively support any of the accusations against Graves is still very much a mystery.

The case is scheduled for another pretrial hearing in Towslee-Corbett's court in Caldwell on April 13.

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Anthony Graves, Robert Carter, Reva Towslee Corbett, Ray Coffman

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