Students say prosecutor made Graves mistake
Group says evidence never linked him to the 1992 slayings
Houston Chronicle By Harvey Rice
January 10, 2005
Condemned inmate Anthony Graves is waiting to find out whether he will get a new trial. If he does, students at the Texas Innocence Network who investigated his case are convinced he will be acquitted.
The college students say they uncovered new evidence, never presented at trial, that proves Graves was not involved in the Aug. 18, 1992, slayings of six people.
"Rather than pursue justice, however, the state engaged in a pattern of hiding relevant and exculpatory evidence from Graves' defense counsel in its desire to win at all costs," a draft report of the group's findings reads.
The report collects all evidence supporting Graves' innocence claim, including the new information. The students say the most important of that is their potential debunking of the motive prosecutors proposed in persuading jurors to convict Graves 10 years ago.
But whether the new evidence will ever be heard in court depends on U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Galveston, who is reviewing a recommendation that he deny Graves, 38, a new trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge John Froeschner concluded in November that Charles Sebesta, who was the district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties during Graves' trial, was guilty of prosecutorial misconduct because he withheld from the defense a statement that Graves was innocent.
But Froeschner also said the statement by Robert Earl Carter, who later was executed for the slayings, would not have changed the verdict had jurors been aware of it.
In a rebuttal filed last week, Graves' attorney, Roy Greenwood, said it was improper for Froeschner to speculate on how the jury might have ruled.
One juror, Jim Hahn of Manvel, told the Chronicle last year that the case was weak and he regretted voting to convict Graves. He gave the Innocence Network a sworn statement to that effect.
Knife never found
The conviction was based almost entirely on Carter's testimony. The knife Graves was accused of using was never found, and no forensic evidence linked him to the murders.
Carter retracted his trial testimony in a 2000 deposition in which he accused Sebesta of threatening to prosecute Carter's wife, Theresa "Cookie" Carter, to force him to testify against Graves. Carter again professed Graves' innocence in his final statement before his execution on May 31, 2000.
In making his decision, Kent can consider only the trial record. He cannot take into account the two-year investigation by journalism students from the University of St. Thomas in Houston, who are part of the University of Houston-based Texas Innocence Network.
Sebesta said the students took information out of context.
"What these kids are telling you is not what the record says," he said. "You've got to look at the totality of the evidence."
Support from inmate
Journalism professor Nicole Casarez, who advises the students, said their investigation points overwhelmingly toward innocence.
"Nothing we've found says he's guilty," she said.
The Innocence Network warns convicts before taking their cases that if evidence of guilt is found, it could be used against them.
Graves also has support from former death row inmate Kerry Max Cook, who eventually was cleared and is portrayed in the play The Exonerated.
In an interview, Cook said that Carter admitted to him while both were on death row that Graves is innocent.
"I speak for the innocent, but I am very selective," Cook said. "Anthony, I really believe, is innocent. I'm stunned that an innocent person is this close to execution."
Graves, who has not been given an execution date, was condemned for the slaying of Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and four grandchildren ages 4 to 9 in Somerville. They were shot, stabbed and beaten before the house was set ablaze to conceal the crime.
Casarez has written a 17-page draft of a report that says Carter made an extraordinary effort to exonerate Graves, professing Graves' innocence to other death row inmates and a series of attorneys representing him during his lengthy appeals, as well as writing to Graves' appellate attorneys.
The Innocence Network students said they discovered a letter Carter wrote from prison dated Jan. 14, 1998, to a woman he called his "second mother."
"I lied on an innocent man to keep my family safe," Carter wrote. "I even told the D.A. this before I testify (sic) against Graves, but he didn't want to hear it."
Sebesta denied that Carter had made such a statement in 1994. In 2000, however, he acknowledged to a television reporter that Carter did make the statement.
A crucial TV interview
Based partly on allegations stemming from the TV interview, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case to Froeschner, the magistrate judge, to determine whether there was prosecutorial misconduct, which normally is grounds for a new trial.
Sebesta now acknowledges that Carter told him that he alone had committed the murders.
But, Sebesta added, it was an obvious lie.
"I said, 'Robert, there is no way you could have done it yourself,' " Sebesta said. "He abandoned that."
The students also said Sebesta never informed the defense that Carter had said his wife assisted him in the slayings. Sebesta said he would have prosecuted Carter's wife but lacked evidence.
The Innocence Network report says a polygraph exam and telephone records that could have supported Graves' defense have never been given to his attorneys.
A wife's testimony
Moreover, the Innocence Network discovered during an October hearing before Froeschner that it had a copy of grand jury testimony by Carter's wife that neither the judge nor Graves' attorneys had. The document showed that Cookie Carter told the grand jury that her husband had falsely implicated Graves.
The students also cast doubt on Graves' alleged motive. Prosecutors argued that Graves killed Bobbie Davis because she had obtained a promotion at the Brenham State School that his mother wanted.
The school's supervisor told the students, however, that Davis' mother had not applied for the position and was not jealous of the promotion.
Prosecutors alleged that Graves used a knife given to him by his employer, Roy Allen Rueter, who had an identical knife. Rueter agreed to testify after an assistant district attorney told him that "without any doubt," Rueter's knife matched the victims' wounds perfectly, the report says.
Rueter told the Chronicle he later learned that expert testimony revealed that other knives could have made the wounds.
"The way they embellished this back in 1992," he said, "that's the part, I mean, I just feel violated."
||Truth in Justice