Anthony Graves Update
Retrial of capital murder case against Anthony Graves set to go forward this summer, even though special prosecutor recently admitted that crucial evidence in case is lost
Graves' 1994 conviction in connection with a gruesome multiple murder in Burleson County, was overturned last year by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upon a finding that the state had committed prosecutorial misconduct, in part by keeping from the defense crucial witness statements that could have affected the outcome of the trial.
In the wake of the appellate-court opinion, the Burleson Co. District Attorney's Office stepped aside after a judge disqualified one of the office's attorneys prompting the appointment of special prosecutor Patrick Batchelor to take over. Batchelor is likely best known as the attorney who secured a death sentence for Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 even though evidence suggests that he was wrongfully convicted. (Indeed, there's little evidence to suggest that there was even a crime for which to convict. Willingham was tried and convicted of the arson-murder of his three children, but an investigation led by the Innocence Project determined the fire was likely accidental.)
Batchelor told District Judge Reva Towslee-Corbett that he will "account" for the missing evidence by May 1, reports the Houston Chronicle, but made no assurance that the evidence would actually be found. Among the missing, and crucial, pieces of evidence are the skullcaps of the victims, their clothing, fingerprints, bullets taken from the victims, and a bloody hammer and knife that prosecutors allege are the murder weapons. In short, the state is seeking to retry Graves and is seeking the death penalty without the benefit of any physical evidence to back up its theory of the crime. It is a stunning admission but one that sources tell us is not exactly new information. Sources say there have been rumors around Burleson Co. since late last year that the county deliberately destroyed evidence in the case. Batchelor noted the "change of jail [facilities in the county] and personnel" since Graves and co-defendant Robert Carter were arrested in 1992 for the murder of six people in Somerville. Carter initially implicated Graves in the crime but subsequently recanted that claim on numerous occasions, including just before his execution in 2000.
Defense attorneys have been seeking access to the now-reportedly-missing evidence: Attorney Jeff Blackburn says Graves' legal team wanted to conduct DNA testing on the victims' clothing DNA analysis wasn't available at Graves' first trial, but blood-typing analysis did not link Graves to the scene and to analyze fingerprints found at the murder scene, which at this point have not been matched to anyone involved in the case including Graves. Now, Batchelor says, the only answer he may have to give the defense is that the evidence is simply "gone."
Unless the charges are dismissed and, despite a total lack of solid evidence, it seems likely the state will push on with this increasingly embarrassing prosecution Graves' trial is set to begin July 10.