Monday, November 1, 2010
Anthony Graves: Two Decades To Forgive for Texas Death Row Inmate
Michael Paulsen Chronicle
“I’m sorry,” Roy Rueter told Anthony Graves at a news conference Thursday that marked Graves’ release after 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t do. Rueter said prosecutors misled him, and he testified against his friend at trial.
Sun Oct 31, 2010 14:34
Barbecue, Bearhugs and No Looking Back
First full day as free man finds Graves praying it's not just a dream
By MIKE TOLSON
Oct. 28, 2010, 11:24PM
Anthony Graves spent his first full day of freedom in almost two decades eating barbecued ribs, visiting with happy supporters who had diligently pressed his case and insisting to all who cared that he bore no malice toward those who railroaded him onto Texas' death row for a crime in which authorities now say he had no part.
Graves said he was enjoying just soaking in the free world, which he had not seen since August 1992, and praying that it was not merely a dream that would end with the sharp clank of heavy cell door or a painful twinge from a hard steel bunk.
"It's still a surreal moment for me," Graves told reporters Thursday, calmly entertaining every question with a smile. "I've tried to understand as best I could what I'm feeling, but I still haven't been able to. … I was going through my own personal hell for 18 years, then one day I walk out."
Graves, 45, was released Wednesday from Burleson County Jail, where he has been for the last four years awaiting retrial, after prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss capital murder charges arising from the brutal killing of a family, including four children, in Somerville. Those prosecutors followed the dismissal with an angry denunciation of the former district attorney, Charles Sebesta, whom they claim fabricated evidence and intimidated witnesses.
Graves, however, said he intends to stay positive, move on with his life and devote his time to helping others.
No energy for anger
He had a simple description for the 12 years he spent on death row: "Hell. Whatever your description of hell is, that's what it is. I don't even need to elaborate."
Graves said repeatedly that he was not angry at the people responsible for his conviction.
"I'm not going to give them that kind of energy," he said. "I gave them 18 years. I just have to give that to God. I'm ready to live now."
Graves said the love and support of people who came forward to help him kept him going over the years. He especially thanked St. Thomas University journalism professor Nicole Casarez and a handful of her students whose investigative work gave momentum to the effort to get his conviction overturned.
"I never lost hope, because once you lose hope, you're a dead man walking," Graves said. "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."
Graves said that immediately after his release he rode a "roller coaster of emotions" and cried "because of the wrong that had been done to me." But he said he had no real animosity toward Robert Carter, the actual killer who had named him as an accomplice and testified against him at trial before recanting prior to his execution in 2000.
"I never really knew him," he said of Carter. "I don't have any feelings toward him today because I think that for the most part they manipulated him, too, so I can't even speak to that."
Others rail at injustice
If Graves seemed indifferent toward those who sent him to prison, attorney Katherine Scardino expressed the same outrage voiced by Bill Parham, the current district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, and Kelly Siegler, a onetime assistant DA in Harris County. Scardino, like Siegler, had been brought in for Graves' scheduled retrial in 2011 after a federal appeals court overturned his conviction.
"I have never seen such blatant injustice to another human being as what was done to Anthony Graves in this case," said Scardino.
She also was indignant that a different set of prosecutors had offered Graves a life sentence a year ago in lieu of another trial. She said no one seemed interested in looking afresh at the evidence - or lack of it - and that if they had, Graves might have been freed long ago. Scardino relayed the offer to her client, confident that he would reject it and pleased when he did.
"How am I going to do a life sentence knowing that I'm innocent?" Graves said. "I always told my attorneys that I didn't want no plea bargain. They were either going to free me or kill me. I couldn't betray my family and stand in front of judge and plead guilty to something I didn't do. You have to stand for something in this world."
Graves arrived at the mid-afternoon news conference at Scardino's office fresh from a barbecue restaurant.
Slowly he worked his way into the conference room, one hug at a time. There were family members he hadn't seen in the 22 hours since he walked out of jail, as well as lawyers and students who had worked for his release.
He stopped as he came across 36-year-old Michael Rueter, who was a teenager when they last met.
"Oh, you grew up on me," Graves told the tearful Rueter.
And then came Rueter's father, who'd been a friend before testifying against Graves at his 1994 trial after first putting up money for his defense.
"I'm sorry," Roy Rueter said.
"It was not your fault," Graves assured him, opening his arms for another hug. "You were manipulated. It happens to the best of us."
Faces from his past
Graves had been employed at Rueter's family business in Brenham at the time of his arrest. The men played softball together, and Graves served communion at Roy Rueter's wedding. Rueter said he had come to the office just for the chance to see his friend walk free.
He had been persuaded to testify against Graves, believing prosecutors when they said a cheap knife Rueter had given Graves was a match for the wounds on one of the slain children.
He said he realized he had been misled in 1996 after being contacted by an investigator working for Graves' first appellate lawyer.
"It made me physically ill," Rueter said. "No excuse for betraying a friend."
After the news conference, Graves said Texas' criminal justice system makes convictions and death sentences too easy to obtain. He said the public should demand more accountability from prosecutors and greater scrutiny of evidence.
"People don't realize it can happen to them, but we are all vulnerable," he said. "I never thought about the death penalty for two seconds. I didn't live that kind of life."
Graves said he wanted to work on behalf of those who have been wrongfully convicted, though as yet he has no specific plans. He said the state's "flawed system" leaves him with no doubt that there are others on death row not guilty of the crimes that sent them there.
Jeannie Kever contributed to this report.
Anthony Graves story - in significant ways and attitudes of forgiveness - remind me of Ed Chapman's story...North Carolina, similarly, has lots of problems with labs...
See the Journey of Hope posts here here
WATCH for more on the Texas Journey of Hope - 2010 which just concluded...now soon we should be receiving some photos and articles to post. Gilles had to suddenly return home unexpectedly. What amazing timing JOURNEY was there with our own Journey Family of Exonerated just as Anthony Graves was freed.
Posted by CN at 10:38 AM