Former Death Row Inmate Freed In Texas

Anthony Graves is free today after being wrongfully convicted of the murder of six people in Burleson County, Texas. The district attorney's office there dropped all capital murder charges against him on Thursday. NPR's Melissa Block talks to Pamela Colloff, senior editor of Texas Monthly, who wrote an exhaustive piece about the case.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Just moments before he was executed by the state of Texas in 2000, Robert Earl Carter was insistent. He said, Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him.

Years before, Carter had implicated Graves in the grisly murder of six people, including four young children. Despite Carter's multiple recantations, Graves was sentenced to death and remained behind bars until yesterday when the district attorney's office in Burleson County, Texas, suddenly dropped all capital murder charges against him.

After 18 years in prison, Anthony Graves is a free man.

Just a month ago, Pamela Colloff, senior editor of Texas Monthly, wrote about Graves in one of the longest stories the magazine ever published. The in-depth report titled "Innocence Lost" laid bare an exhaustive and embarrassing series of missteps by law enforcement officials that led to Graves' wrongful conviction. And Pamela Colloff joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

Ms. PAMELA COLLOFF (Senior Editor, Texas Monthly): Thank you so much for having me.

BLOCK: Let's recap this case. Anthony Graves was convicted of capital murder. That conviction was actually overturned 12 years later, but he was awaiting retrial on capital murder charges. Now, the D.A.'s office says, unequivocally, he is an innocent man.

Ms. COLLOFF: Yes. What's interesting is that they say that unequivocally. This is not the sort of situation where a D.A. is saying we don't have enough evidence to move forward or this case is too old to prosecute. There is a remarkable press conference this morning that the district attorney held in Brenham, Texas, in which he and his special prosecutor said this man is innocent. We have absolutely no shred of evidence that connects him to this crime.

BLOCK: Well, how was it that Anthony Graves was first implicated in these murders back in 1992?

Ms. COLLOFF: This began because Robert Carter, the man who did in fact commit this crime and he was later executed for committing this crime, was asked repeatedly on the night of his arrest who had helped him. The Texas rangers who were investigating the case believed that one person could not have been responsible for the murders of six people. Finally, after a lengthy interrogation, Robert Carter came up with the name of Anthony Graves, a person he knew very, very casually, and that was the beginning.

BLOCK: And there was no physical evidence connecting Anthony Graves with the murders. He had an alibi, witnesses to back it up. What is the explanation for what happened with this case? Pamela, was this, as we said, missteps by the D.A., or was it something really more pernicious? Was there a willful misconduct on the part of prosecutors?

Ms. COLLOFF: The night before Robert Carter, the man who committed this crime, took the stand at Anthony Graves' trial, he told the district attorney, I did this myself. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with this. The district attorney at that point was obligated to disclose that information to the defense. He claimed that he did. The defense said that he never disclosed that. And there's no evidence to support that he ever did disclose that information. The following day Robert Carter took the stand, he testified against Anthony Graves and delivered the testimony that the district attorney had hoped he would. A federal court later found that when Mr. Sebesta took that testimony, he knew that that was perjured testimony.

BLOCK: It's worth noting that it was a journalism class engaged in investigating wrongful prosecutions that led to Anthony Graves' original conviction being overturned, right?

Ms. COLLOFF: That's correct. There's a professor here in Houston at University of St. Thomas, Nicole Casarez, she and her journalism students spent eight years investigating this case and turned up some remarkable facts. They went back. They reinvestigated the case. They found new people to talk about what had happened. They pored over this incredible lengthy and complicated court record. And what Nicole and her students put together was a very damning picture of miscarriage of justice.

BLOCK: Anthony Graves was, what, 26 when he was arrested. He leaves prison now at age 45 - 18 years of his life behind bars. What happens with him now?

Ms. COLLOFF: I think that's the question. I talked to him very briefly yesterday, and he said this is the beginning - I think, meaning, this is the beginning of my life or the rest of my life. But keep in mind he will get no money from the state of Texas. He's 45. He has nothing to his name. When he called his mother yesterday to tell her that he was finally being let go, he didn't know how to use his attorney's cell phone. And no amount of money, even if he were being given money, I think could give back what's been taken from him.

BLOCK: Pamela Colloff, it is a chilling and terrifying story. Thank you very much.

Ms. COLLOFF: Thank you so much.

BLOCK: Pamela Colloff is senior editor of Texas Monthly. You can read her story about Anthony Graves called "Innocence Lost" at npr.org.

At a news conference today in Houston, Anthony Graves said he never lost hope.

Mr. ANTHONY GRAVES: I never hesitated. I've always told my attorney I'm not going to compromise. I don't want no plea bargain, either free me or kill me. But I'm standing on what's right. And I'll tell anybody that. At some point, you have to stand on what's right even if there are consequences. It's going to make a difference. You just may not be here to witness it.

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