Update: The prosecution dropped all charges against Anthony Graves and released him Oct. 27 after 18 years in prison.
The case of convicted murderer Anthony Graves exemplifies why prosecutorial misconduct is the number one cause of wrongful murder convictions, according to an attorney and journalism professor who helped win a new trial for the Death Row inmate. Nicole Cásarez, a University of St. Thomas professor, and her students began looking into Graves’ case in 2002. “I never thought it would take up this much of my life,” she told Law Center students in a discussion hosted by the Criminal Justice Institute. Graves was convicted in the 1992 killing of six people in Somerville, TX. and sentenced to death. He was convicted without physical evidence and despite the fact that the only witness linking him to the crime recanted his statement before his own trial in the case and proclaimed Graves’ innocence even from the gurney in the death chamber.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found “egregious” prosecutorial misconduct and ordered a new trial in 2006 based on evidence gathered by Cásarez and her students, Law Center Prof. David Dow and the Texas Innocence Network and others. Graves is awaiting retrial in the Spring 2011.
Cásarez began her discussion by noting that sometimes parents or teachers will discipline a child even without solid evidence just because “someone must be punished.” Investigators and prosecutors, she said, needed to find someone else to punish because they didn’t believe Graves’ fellow defendant, Robert Carter, had acted alone. She said they were pursuing a conviction, not justice. “I believe he was blamed for something he didn’t do,” she said. “We’re trying to get the state to admit it made a mistake and set it right.”
Cásarez cited a number of problems, including:
Cásarez, a member of Graves’ defense team for his retrial, concedes it will be a battle despite the lack of credible evidence. The judge, she notes, is the daughter of the original trial judge and set a bond of $1 million, lowered to $600,000, which is why Graves is still in jail. Cásarez is also concerned because testimony from the first trial will be admissible in the retrial.
“We’re looking at another appeal and perhaps 10 more years in jail,” she says with a sigh. “I know he feels a lot of anger and frustration, but I haven’t heard a lot of that from him. He’s got a remarkably good attitude.”
|Law Center Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, left, discusses a death row case with St. Thomas University journalism Professor Nicole Cásarez who helped win a new trial for the inmate, Anthony Graves.||Anthony Graves awaits a new trial set for Spring 2011|