When someone is exonerated for a crime they have been convicted of, but later found not to have committed (or at least enough evidence does not exist anymore to prove guilt), there are other injustices' aside from the incarceration of an innocent person. First of course there is the pain and suffering the innocent person's family has had to endure. There is the issue of public opinion of those convinced the defendant was guilty, with or without a conviction, or an exoneration. When the innocent person has children prior to being incarcerated, those children suffer not just generally financially but from the loss of having their parent in their lives. Many of those children move on, because let's be honest, what else can they do? But, there is always a void and many exonerated individuals have difficulty reconnecting with their children when they are released. But, even more than that I feel as if the victims of the crimes get lost in the shuffle as headlines dominate the issue of the release of the innocent person. It took a lot of digging through this case to even determine the names and many of the specifics in the crime that sent Anthony Graves to death row. Most of the articles would simply say he was convicted of killing six people, four of which were under the age of eight (although it was nine). A few would say “a grandmother, her daughter and four of her grandchildren.” There were few specifics because the articles wanted to not just concentrate on the issue of Graves' exoneration but also the alleged misconduct of the prosecutor that had led the conviction.
On August 18, 1992 in Somerville Texas firefighters responded to a fire at a residence. Inside were the bodies of forty-five year old Bobbie Davis, her sixteen year old daughter, Nicole and four of her grandchildren. It was very apparent to investigators that the victims had been murdered before the home was set ablaze. Bobbie had suffered from “at least” twenty-nine stab wounds to her head and neck and had possibly been hit in the head with an object resembling a hammer. Sixteen year old Nicole had been shot five times in the head and stabbed multiple times in the head and chest. Denitra (9), Brittany (6), Lea Erin (5) and Jason (4), had all been stabbed between seven and thirteen times in the head and chest. Through my research it appears that Jason, as well as either Brittany or Denitra were the children of Bobbie's daughter, Lisa and that the other two girls were likely the children of a son of Bobbie's. They all carried the Davis name and I was able to find a picture of Lea Erin with her mother.
Four days later a joint funeral for the victims was held in a local high school auditorium. Police were present and watching those who attended the funeral and one person stuck out to them, Robert Carter. Carter was the father of four year old Jason and worked as a prison guard. He had been served with paternity papers just the day before after Lisa Davis had filed to obtain legal child support. This alone is not what struck the investigators at the funeral or made them watch Carter a bit more. It was the fact that Carter attended the funeral with bandages on his face and hand. They knew it was a possibility that the person who started the fire could have received burns. They also knew that statistics told them that who ever started the fire likely committed the murders also and it was possible that under those bandages were not just burns, but also cuts obtained during the commission of the crime.
Authorities brought Carter in for questioning. He claimed to have received the burns on his face and hand while mowing his grass and having an incident with the gas. Investigators say that he soon changed his story when he was informed he failed a lie detector test. At that point Carter told them that he, Anthony Graves and a man that he supposedly only knew as “Red” had gone to the Davis home to speak with Lisa about the paternity suit that she had filed. As the story went on, at least at this time, he would claim that he had stabbed Bobbie Davis while “Red” hit her over the head. He also took responsibility for shooting Nicole when she came out of her room to investigate what was going on. He then claimed he went outside to get sick over what had happened and that when he went back inside Graves had stabbed all of the children. Carter says he then spread gasoline all over the home and the bodies and set the house ablaze, but in the process he was burnt.
Authorities quickly moved to arrest Anthony Graves and within a few days they became convinced that “Red” was actually Carter's wife, Theresa (she was also Graves' cousin) and they also arrested her. Authorities would later say they came to this conclusion after hearing jail cell conversations between the two men about protecting Theresa at any cost. However, a few days after their arrests the trio faced a grand jury. At that point Carter told the grand jury that he had lied to authorities about his, as well as the others, involvement. He stated that the authorities wanted a “story” and he gave them what they wanted to hear. No one believed him and the three were apparently indicted.
Carter was the first to go to trial. He was convicted for six murders in February of 1994 and before he was sentenced his attorney approached district attorney, Charles Sebesta about coming to some sort of deal to help Carter not receive the death penalty. According to Sebesta, he told Carter that he would only make such a deal if he told the entire truth about what happened including all involvement of both Graves and his wife, as well as testify against them both. Carter took issue in implicating his wife, which Sebesta has said pretty much made it a no deal issue then but by the sounds of things Carter still thought he could garner favor if he testified against Graves and had intended to. Then, the night before he was to testify in Graves' trial in October of 1994 Carter told Sebesta that he had committed the crime alone. Sebesta has stated that he did not believe this statement and defense attorney's claim that Sebesta never told them Carter made this claim. Eventually Carter would testify against Graves but only on the condition that no questions about his wife would be asked.
So here it was October of 1994 and the second trial was to take place. Keep in mind how I've talked about how little evidence I found regarding specifics, especially about the crime itself. By all indications of the information I did find, it appears that no murder weapon(s) was found. When Carter went to trial it appears that while they had had his confession they had also been able to match bullets taken from Nicole Davis' body to ammunition found in Carter's home, right down to a specific box. But in none of the research I found were any other forensics, including fingerprints discussed. When it came to Graves it seems that the only real “evidence” they had was Carter's testimony. There was apparently testimony that would later be disputed by other experts that a knife Graves owned at the time could have been consistent with one used at the crime but not very specific. It seems then that Carter, while leaving out any talk of “Red” or his wife, told his story that Graves was with him at the scene. Prosecutors had already said that Carter's motive had been the paternity suit filed but when it came to Graves they had a motive theory for him too. According to the prosecutors both Bobbie Davis and Graves' mother worked at the same place and prosecutors claimed that Graves felt that Davis had engaged in inappropriate conduct with a supervisor there and had garnered a promotion he felt his mother deserved. Whether there was any real evidence presented to make this theory appear more valid is unknown.
For his part Graves claimed innocence. It does appear that the defense possibly contended that with as many victims as there were and apparently at least two, if not three, weapons used that they did not believe one person was solely responsible but they stuck with the fact that Graves was not involved. The defense had intended to present a witness on the stand that would collaborate Graves' alibi. However, at the last minute the witness refused to testify. It appears that the court record showed that Sebesta stated that the witness was a suspect in the murders and could be indicted. I could not find any information that stated who this witness was however.
On November 1, 1994 Anthony Graves was convicted on six counts of murder and was subsequently sentenced to death. Eventually the charges against Theresa Carter were dropped and she never faced trial. I gander to guess that this is because investigators had assumed she was the anonymous person Robert Carter referred to as “Red” and they had no evidence against her, just as they had against Graves, and Carter was not willing to testify.
Over the ensuing years Graves' attorney's filed for post-conviction hearings. In one the issue of the alibi witness was brought up and the fact that the statements Sebesta had made in court about the witness at risk of being charged were not true. The courts denied the defense requests. In 1997 Graves' conviction and sentence was upheld. Keep in mind that by this point George W. Bush was the new Governor of Texas and he would push executions through the state. Later that same year another post conviction hearing occurred regarding the testimony at trial about Graves owning a knife that could have been used in the murders. A new expert was claiming this was not true, or at best not reliable. Once again the courts denied the defense request for a new trial.
Some reports say that for several years prior to this execution Robert Carter had insisted that he acted alone. Other reports say this was first mentioned by him a few weeks prior to his execution. But, all seem to agree that some of Carters last words in 2000 were about Graves not being involved in the crime and insisting he lied in court. It would take another six years before a judge would listen to all the evidence there was, and there was not, and overturn his conviction and order a new trial. He had spent twelve years on death row at that point and had received two execution dates that had obviously been delayed. At this point a special prosecutor was called in to look over the case. I believe that part of the reason for this was some of the allegations against the district attorney's office had come to light. But, I also believe that it was also because they brought in the “famous” Kelly Siegler. I would gander to guess after initially looking over the case and seeing there was no evidence available and knowing that Robert Carter could not have testified against him again if he wanted to they needed to bring someone better in.
Now, Kelly Siegler has had her own issues over the years since this time. She has faced lots of scrutiny over her show Cold Justice and the practices made there. But, there has also been at least one case in which she has been accused of prosecutor misconduct. To be fair off the top of my head I do not recall which case it is but I have seen it aired on many things. But, Siegler came into this case and started digging. According to her the investigation basically started from scratch, or at best it could after more than a decade. It was said old and new witnesses were interviewed and she decided there was absolutely nothing they could use to prosecute. In fact, as I understand it she may have also been the first one, at least publicly, to decide that Charles Sebesta had acted unethically. Anthony Graves was finally released from prison in October of 2010.
In 2009 the state of Texas had enacted a law called The Timothy Cole Compensation Act. This allowed unjustly convicted persons to receive $80,000 for every year they were wrongly imprisoned and also included a yearly annuity, although I found nothing on how much that was or how it was concluded. After his release Graves went to apply for this and was denied. The Attorney Generals Office which was apparently in charge of this said they could not give this to him because in his release papers did not contain the words “actual innocence” which was required based on the law at the time. Soon after Graves, through his attorney, filed a lawsuit. Eventually they were able to change the law and he was given compensation of $1.4 million dollars in June of 2011. But, this did not occur until after Graves felt the state had tried to get even with him once more.
After his release he initially began doing speaking engagements as well as working for the Texas Defender Service that represented death penalty defendants. He was making fairly decent money it seemed. Then the state started garnishing his wages for child support. Now this was not any sort of current order that had been filed, but for arrears that were left unpaid while he had been in prison. In 2002 a judge had ruled that he owed back support from 1998 until 2002, which amounted to over $5,000. Keep in mind that from 1998-2002 Graves was sitting on death row. Then apparently they had somehow blocked him from receiving payment from at least one of his speaking engagements. Initially Graves attorney believed that the garnishment and the preventing payment of speaking engagements were all retaliation for the lawsuit he had filed to get compensation as it all seemed to happen at the same time. The state responded that they had a computer system that periodically ran names and when they found employment it started the process and that a) it had nothing to do with his lawsuit against them and b) they would be “looking into” reimbursing him. As someone who has dealt with a child support system I could maybe buy the first reasoning but I highly doubt, nor could I find anything later, they had plans to reimburse him. In fact, my research mentioned another man who had been exonerated in Texas and upon his release was hit with a bill of $25,000 in back child support. I should be looking at that case at some point.
In January of 2011 Graves also filed a grievance against Charles Sebesta to the State Bar. In June of 2015 Sebesta had his law license revoked due to this case. For his part Sebesta had continually insisted that Graves was guilty despite his release. No one has complete details on the circumstances with the State Bar since Sebesta opted for a closed door “trial.” In the end two things apparently contributed to their decision. The first was the issue surrounding Robert Carter. Despite Sebesta stating differently the defense attorney's claimed that they were never told by Sebesta that just prior to Carter testifying against Graves he had told Sebesta he had acted alone. They claim this could have drastically changed the situation. They also probably likely did not know any “deal” or discussions that had been made with Carter to elicit his testimony. The second issue the Bar had revolved around the witness that had planned to testify to collaborate Graves' alibi. As I stated earlier, Sebesta had announced in court that the witness was a suspect in the murder (I never determined who it was) and was at risk of being indicted which scared the witness from testifying. While Sebesta apparently had some good attorney's on his side the other side was handled by lawyers who had been successful in having another former Texas District Attorney disbarred after mishandling another case of an exonerated person. Whether Sebesta would ever be able to get his law license back was unclear.
I would like to tell you that these people that are being exonerated at a very scary rate it seems were incarcerated in times before forensics were available but that is not true. There is still a massive problem with not only unjust incarceration but investigators and prosecutors who seem very gung ho and running with their theories. I moved to a new town in 2014 and I can say that I have never seen so many cases that have gone through the courts that between law enforcement, prosecutors and the media the case seems to be a slam dunk only to have the defendant found not guilty. While some of those defendants were luckier than Graves who spent sixteen years in prison, twelve of those on death row, one has to ask not just why this is happening but are guilty people also being released because there is too much rush to judgment? There is a case scheduled to come up in this town in a few months that I have yet blogged about because it has obviously not seen finality that I, and many in the community, question the supposed guilt of the person. It was a very high profile case in the area and while it took several months to have ANY leads, within days law enforcement “had their man” and the investigation seemed to end. You'll learn more about this case obviously at a later date. But that is just one of MANY examples I have seen in this area. And the other problem with this is that the second someone is arrested for a crime those in the community have deemed them guilty. An arrest, does not a case make.
A few years ago a man was murdered in the middle of a street. There were no witnesses to the crime. Several days later three men were arrested and charged with the murder. The motive? One of the men and the victim had both had a child with the same woman, several years apart apparently. Two of the men were arrested together but a “manhunt” was out for the third who eventually turned himself in. Again, the investigation seemed to stop. The three men spent over six months in jail before charges were dropped due to lack of evidence. One of the three men had been a “thorn” in police officer's side for years and they kept him for a while, hitting him with a parole violation. There has been no more word on leads in the case of the man murdered. Were these three men involved? What happens when they, or anyone else is arrested? Did this rush to judgment taint the case? I am certain that things like this happen all over the country, even today. If you watch many of the true crime dramas on television you will hear officers and district attorney's tell the viewers that the justice system is hindered now because shows like CSI and Law and Order has convinced people that not only are crimes solved quickly but they have all the forensics to go with it. I feel that often officers still want to pacify a community in making a quick arrest but for me forensics is the key to everything, and not because some television show told me so. Juries rightly want proof that someone was not just present, but involved. One has to wonder if the issue of false confessions have become such an issue because some investigator is convinced they have their man and yet there are no fingerprints, a paper trail or any other evidence to back this theory. Prosecutors should be just as diligent about getting the right man off the street as a defense attorney is to have their client found not guilty. Now, do not get me wrong, there are crooked people on both sides but let's take politics out and fight for the same side... the right side where the right people go to prison and the innocent are set free. Let's back those cases with the hardest evidence you can find and let a jury decide just how hard it is.