HOUSTON -- Former death row inmate Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years behind bars before being exonerated, announced Monday that he is taking action against the man who prosecuted him, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
“We’re here today, Martin Luther King Day, seeking justice for me and my family and the citizens of this state,” Graves told a crowd at Texas Southern University while announcing that he would file a grievance against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta.
Graves spent 12 of his 18 years in prison on death row — where he twice neared execution. Graves had been convicted of killing a Somerville family of six, even though another man, Robert Carter, confessed that he was the sole killer. Both men were sentenced to death. Then, in 2006, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves' conviction, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld Carter's confession from the defense.
“I’m asking prosecutors to cooperate with the highest of integrity,” Graves said. "It took me 18 and a half years to get back home. Two execution dates. All because a man abused his position."
Robert Bennett, Graves’ attorney, said Graves could elect to pursue criminal charges against Sebesta in addition to filing a grievance with the State Bar of Texas. Sebesta could not immediately be reached for comment, but he has denied that he withheld evidence in the case. On his website, Sebesta defends his actions and points to the State Bar's dismissal of a previous grievance over the case.
State Sens. John Whitmire and Rodney Ellis and Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, joined Graves at Monday's news conference. Supporting Graves' pursuit of a grievance, they called on the State Bar to provide justice for Graves.
“It doesn’t hurt to have some transparency,” Thompson said. “No one is above the law.”
In 2013, Whitmire authored Senate Bill 825, which changed the statute of limitations for a wrongfully imprisoned person to file a grievance in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. The new law allows Graves to take action against Sebesta up to four years after the date of Graves’ release from prison. Previously, the four-year statute began on the date the misconduct was discovered.
Whitmire said that while district attorneys will always be needed, “the message today is, we’re watching them.”
Graves was released Oct. 27, 2010, which meant that under SB 825 he is eligible to file a grievance through Oct. 27 of this year. At the conclusion of Monday's news conference, using an aide’s iPad, he submitted his grievance electronically.
“It’s a great day to be alive,” he said.