Freed death row inmate speaks out

October 28, 2010 3:20:30 PM PDT
A former inmate who spent 18 years on death row spoke out for the first time since his release. Anthony Graves was released from the county jail in Brenham Wednesday after the DA dropped all murder charges against him. Graves, now 45 years old, with half of his life spent in prison, says he never lost hope because he knew he was innocent.

When asked how he felt being a free man, Graves responded, "For the first few moments, first few hours, I thought that I would wake up back in the cell, it's not real to me. It's still not real to me."

On Thursday afternoon, Graves held a press conference and said he was ready to rebuild his life. He described his years on death row in simple terms.

"Hell. Whatever your description of hell is -- that's what it is. You don't need to elaborate," said Graves.

Since 1994, he says he lived a nightmare, convicted of capital murder for the 1992 slayings of Bobbie Davis, her teenage daughter and Davis' four grandchildren aged just four to nine. The Somerville family was doused in gasoline and set on fire; their home also burned.

Graves says he never lost his faith in his innocence.

"I had a lot of love and support, but knowing that I was innocent, there were some things I wasn't going to give them. I refuse to give them my hope and belief in myself," Graves said. "I knew I was innocent. I wasn't going to lay down and die for something they did wrong."

Robert Earl Carter was also convicted. He testified against Graves at the trial, but prior to his execution in 2000, he recanted and said Graves had nothing to do with the murders. An appeals court overturned Graves' conviction in 2006, but it wasn't until Wednesday when the prosecutors who had planned to retry him decided not to, saying there was not enough evidence tying him to the killings.

Graves' lawyer, Katherine Scardino, put much of the blame of convicting an innocent man on prosecutors, investigators and the former DA at the time.

"The idea that they would offer life to him a year ago is pretty amazing. I don't believe anybody investigated anything since 1992," said Scardino. "I don't believe I have ever seen such injustice."

Graves, however, says he holds no bad feelings toward Carter or toward prosecutors who he says manipulated him and the system.

Now he says he wants to help others who also might be wrongly convicted.

"I'm going to create my own future. Doing something positive. I think this is the opportunity to help someone," he said. "I'd like to be an advocate for justice."

"I'm feeling alive. I got my life back," he said. "I'm ready to live, be among my family and friends, put my life back together."

He said he spent his first day as a free man eating ribs and taking it all in, and that he kept messing up while trying to use a cell phone for the first time.

New details emerge

Graves' brother says he always knew he was innocent. Arthur Curry told us he was sleeping in the same house with Graves the night of the murders, and it was that information, along with additional research by investigators as well as special prosecutor and former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler, which won Graves a new trial.

In a news conference, Siegler blasted former DA Charles Sebesta, saying he encouraged Ronald Carter to lie on the stand and grossly mishandled this case. It would all eventually lead to the charges being dropped altogether.

Washington-Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham filed the motion, dismissing the charges against death row inmate Anthony Graves.

He'd been in prison for 18 years, convicted of the mass murder of a Somerville family in 1992, during which the victims' home was also set on fire.

Graves maintained his innocence and Parham, who was not the DA at the time, now agrees with him.

"We did shift from the possibility of maybe we don't have sufficient evidence to we have no evidence to the fact that we may have an innocent man," said Parham. "It's kind of a rare situation where prosecutors without the use of DNA or any other type of evidence that dispels guilt looks at a case and says, 'There's no evidence. This man is not guilty.'"

"Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that would be best described as a criminal justice system's nightmare," said Siegler.

Eyewitness News spoke with Graves' brother and mother at their Brenham home on Wednesday night, just a short time after Graves' family greeted him. They say there have been feelings of bitterness along the way, but now there's joy, and his freedom has been a long time coming.

"We just have to get back to starting all over again. We have to start all over again because he can't get back what he lost; that's 18 years he lost," said Doris Curry, Graves' mother.

As for former DA Sebesta, he retired 12 years ago, and we have not had opportunity yet to seek his response to what was said in the news conference.

Graves will now be eligible to get more than a million dollars from the state because of his wrongful imprisonment.


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