After 18 years of incarceration and countless protestations of innocence, Anthony Graves finally got a nod of approval from the one person who mattered Wednesday and at last returned home — free from charges that he participated in the butchery of a family in Somerville he did not know and free of the possibility that he would have to answer for them with his life.
The district attorney for Washington and Burleson counties, Bill Parham, gave Graves his release. The prosecutor filed a motion to dismiss charges that had sent Graves to Texas' death row for most of his adult life. Graves returned to his mother's home in Brenham no longer the "cold-blooded killer," so characterized by the prosecutor who first tried him, but as another exonerated inmate who even in the joy of redemption will face the daunting prospect of reassembling the pieces of a shattered life.
"He's an innocent man," Parham said, noting that his office investigated the case for five months. "There is nothing that connects Anthony Graves to this crime. I did what I did because that's the right thing to do."
An attorney for Graves, Jimmy Phillips Jr., said his client was released from Burleson County Jail, where he had been awaiting a retrial, at about 5:30 p.m.
Graves immediately went to see his mother in Brenham and reportedly spent the night near Austin. "The first place he wanted to go is to go hug his mama," Phillips said. "He is a free man, and he's home."
Graves called his mother to tell her he was coming home. Doris Curry left the house to pick up her youngest son, and by the time she returned home, Graves was already there, surrounded by family and friends.
"I hugged him and I hugged him and I cried and we both cried and we hugged and we cried," Curry said. "He said: 'Mama, it's over. Mama, 18 years we've fought this fight a long time. It's over. Justice has been done for me.' "
The 62-year-old woman said she never doubted the innocence of Graves, the eldest of her five children.
"A mother knows her child," she said. "I know what kind of person he was. He wasn't that person they built him up to be."
'He's lost a lot'
Curry said there is no way to ever fill the void of Graves' 18 years in prison, close to half his life. It is time gone that cannot be retrieved, she said.
"But he can build his life on what he has and move on," she said. "He's lost a lot. He was 26 years old when they took him. Now he's 45. He's got grandchildren he's never touched."
Graves' youngest brother, Arthur Curry, testified in vain at his 1994 trial, telling jurors that Graves had been at home sleeping at the time when the murders occurred. Jurors did not believe him, so his brother's return home carried a deep, personal significance.
"The sun couldn't shine any brighter," Curry, now 37, said. "It's just like celebrating a resurrection, almost, because it was almost like a death in our family. But it was a slow death, continuously, just waiting for that demise."
'I lied on him in court'
Graves was convicted of assisting Robert Earl Carter in the slaying of Bobbie Davis, 45; her 16-year-old daughter, Nicole; and Davis' four grandchildren, ages 4 to 9, on Aug. 18, 1992. Carter was executed in 2000. Two weeks before his death, he provided a sworn statement saying that his naming of Graves as an accomplice was a lie.
He repeated the statement while strapped to the gurney minutes before his death: "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. ... I lied on him in court."
Charles Sebesta, then the district attorney, did not believe Carter. Even after he no longer held the post, Sebesta held to his beliefs, calling Graves "cold-blooded" and taking out an ad in two Burleson County newspapers in 2009 to dispute media reports criticizing the conduct of prosecutors.
The evidence against Graves was never overwhelming, depending mostly on Carter's earlier accusation and jailhouse statements purportedly overheard by law enforcement officers. Even Sebesta acknowledged it was not his strongest case.
"I've had some slam-dunk cases," he said in 2001. "It was not a slam-dunk case."
Graves' appellate attorneys, Jay Burnett and Roy Greenwood, knew it was far less. They soon were convinced their client had no knowledge of or participation in the crime, just as he had claimed since the moment of his arrest.
Over the years, there was increasing evidence raised to doubt the validity of the conviction. Students in a University of St. Thomas journalism class worked with The Innocence Project at the University of Houston to review the Graves case in detail.
Nicole Casarez, the journalism professor who taught the class, and one of her students interviewed Carter's brother, whose affidavit along with other evidence they gathered helped persuade the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to order a hearing, which eventually led to the new trial.
"I think the dismissal motion filed this morning says it best: There is no credible evidence to inculpate this defendant," Casarez said Wednesday night. "I’m just thrilled that it has finally come to this. I think it was a lot of people working very hard, perhaps even divine intervention, so that it all worked out today."
Siegler was to prosecute
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Graves’ conviction in 2006. A three-judge panel said he deserved a new trial after ruling that prosecutors elicited false statements from two witnesses and withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors.
Graves eventually was returned to county jail with a bond set at $1 million, and Parham began to reassemble the case and review the evidence. He hired former Harris County assistant district attorney Kelly Siegler as a special prosecutor. Siegler soon saw that making a case against Graves was all but impossible.
"After months of investigation and talking to every witness who's ever been involved in this case, and people who've never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder," Siegler said Wednesday.
It was not that the case had gone moldy over the years, she said, but that it never really existed in the first place.
"This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn't make the case anymore," Siegler said. "He is an innocent man."http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/met ... 66470.html