Graves Wakes From Justice System 'Nightmare'

After almost two decades behind bars, Graves declared innocent

Graves Wakes From Justice System 'Nightmare'
Photo by Jana Birchum

Last week, 18 years after Bobbie Joyce Davis, her daughter, and her four grandchildren were murdered inside their Somerville home about 70 miles east of Austin, Anthony Graves – one of two men sentenced to death for the crime – was released from prison. Prosecutors, who had been preparing to retry Graves early next year, said that Graves was actually innocent of the crime for which he was originally convicted 16 years ago.

Graves was first fingered as an accomplice to the crime by Robert Carter, father of one of the murdered children, when he confessed having committed the crime to police. He soon recanted, saying Graves was not involved. Nonetheless, Charles Sebesta, the now-retired district attorney who originally tried the case, hid the fact that Carter had ever recanted from Graves' attorneys. The 5th U.S. Court of Appeals overturned Graves' conviction in 2006 based on Sebesta's misconduct. Nonetheless, the state vowed to retry Graves, and Sebesta has maintained that Graves is guilty – even though there was never any evidence tying Graves to the crime, and Graves had an alibi for the evening of the grisly murders.

During a press conference last week, special prosecutor Kelly Siegler, a former assistant district attorney from Houston who was tapped by Burleson County D.A. Bill Parham to lead the prosecution, said the case against Graves was "horrible" and 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," she told reporters. "It's a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial."

Anthony Graves
Anthony Graves

Gov. Rick Perry, on the other hand, told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal on Oct. 29 that Graves' case shows that our criminal justice system "is working" – completely ignoring the fact that it took a federal court to overturn Graves' death sentence and that until just last week the state seemed intent on retrying Graves. Perry added: "That's the good news for us ... that we are a place that continues to allow that to occur. So I think our system works well; it goes through many layers of observation and appeal, et cetera."

Fortunately for Graves, others have finally seen the case for what it is: a complete miscarriage of justice. Declaring Graves innocent could also help him access state compensation for the wrongfully convicted, which would pay him well over $1 million if approved by the comptroller's office.

Although the case has been controversial from the start, it never received the kind of media attention it deserved; the Chronicle has written a number of stories on it over the years, but it wasn't until last month that the entire tale was laid out in a single story, a Texas Monthly piece written by Pamela Col­loff. How big an influence that story had on prosecutors, who for the last four years have said they intended to retry the case, is unclear.

Regardless, Graves is now, finally, a free man. "I never lost hope, because once you lose hope, you're a dead man walking," he told reporters at an Oct. 28 press conference. "I wasn't just going to lay down and die. I knew that one day it would come to this – I just didn't know what day."

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Anthony Graves, Pamela Colloff, Charles Sebesta, Kelly Siegler, Robert Carter, Bobbie Joyce Davis, Rick Perry

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