He could not claim the money because his court documents did not contain the words "actual innocence."
The Legislature and the governor stepped in to right that wrong.
Now, Graves is once again experiencing true justice.
After 18 years of wrongful imprisonment, Graves is breaking his silence about the death penalty around the world.
To outsiders, it may seem Graves has endured a lot of waiting. To him, that's not the case.
"I've been fighting for 18 years. I've never had the opportunity to wait," he said.
In 1992, Graves was arrested and charged with capital murder in the deaths of a grandmother and five children in Somerville, Texas -- murders he didn't commit.
"I went from home to death row," Graves said.
Graves would wake up each day on death row and do at least one thing to help his case.
Even after his exoneration, his fight continued.
This week, Gov. Rick Perry signed a law allowing him to collect $1.4 million, even though his exoneration order failed to use the words "actual innocence."
Under Texas law, those exonerated receive $80,000 dollars for each year they spent wrongfully imprisoned.
"I'm going to be frugal and I'm going to be wise with it," Graves said of the money.
Since his release last October, Graves started working as an investigator for the state's defender service, specializing in death row cases. He's also traveled to share his story.
"I went to Germany, France, Switzerland and Sweden. I went over there on a speaking tour," he said.
At a community victory celebration for Graves at Shape Community Center, anti-death penalty activists celebrated his release and his return to society -- something the 45-year-old admits he's still getting used to.
Large crowds, traffic and music sometimes startle the man who spent so much time alone.
What hasn't changed is his fighting mentality and desire to educate people on what he calls a "flawed" criminal justice system in a state that leads the nation in executions. It's a fight, he says, that gives him a sense of purpose.
"The very system that almost took my life for something I didn't do still exists, and there's no outrage," he said.
Graves' fight isn't over. He has filed a lawsuit with the Texas Attorney General's office, seeking a declaratory judgment of innocence to clear his name and reputation on the record.
Graves says he has had no contact with the victims' family. He says he would advise them to continue their fight to seek justice.