After spending nearly two decades in prison—12 of those years on death row—for multiple homicides he didn’t commit, Anthony Graves was finally exonerated and released in 2010. In this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast, host Rocky Dhir talks to Graves about the details of the crime, his experience in the courtroom, and what should have been done differently, including properly informing the jury about their role and the case background. Graves discusses whether or not his case has brought about positive change within the criminal justice system and shares what he is doing to fight for criminal justice reform.
Anthony Graves was wrongfully convicted of multiple homicides in 1992 and spent nearly two decades behind bars, including 12 of those years on Texas’ death row. While still in prison, he co-founded Join Hands for Justice, a France-based activist group that led global efforts to prove his innocence. Graves’ conviction and death sentence were overturned in 2006, and after four years of legal wrangling, he was fully exonerated and released in 2010. Since then, he has become a full-time advocate for criminal justice reform, testifying before the U.S. Senate about the harms of solitary confinement, serving on the board of directors for the Houston Forensic Science Center, and working with the ACLU’s Campaign for Smart Justice. Graves speaks widely and runs the Anthony Graves Foundation, which works to draw attention to problems within the American criminal justice system. He lives in Houston.
State Bar of Texas Podcast
Anthony Graves On Overcoming a Wrongful Conviction
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host Rocky Dhir.
Rocky Dhir: Hi and thank you for being here. Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. This is your host, Rocky Dhir.
If you are just tuning in, we have an amazing episode for you today. It’s a very compelling story. My guest today is Anthony Graves. Now, Anthony spent 18-and-a-half years wrongfully convicted behind bars. He has emerged from that entire story as the published author of a book called ‘Infinite Hope’. And Anthony is going to tell us, not only about his story and what transpired starting in 1992 up until his release in 2010; he is also going to tell us about the process of writing ‘Infinite Hope’. It’s an amazing story and as lawyers there’s a lot we can learn from this.
So without any further adieu, let’s get started. Anthony, are you there?
Anthony Graves: Yes sir. How are you?
Rocky Dhir: I am doing great. It’s an honor to have you on our show. Thank you for being here.
Anthony Graves: Thank you for inviting me.
Rocky Dhir: Now Anthony, I don’t remember what I was doing on August 18, 1992. I think at that time I was probably in the summer after my senior year of high school and I was waiting to go off to college; that for you however was a very, very big day.
Anthony Graves: Yeah. It’s a day that I will never forget. I had to think about that day for 6,640 days of my life when I was wrongfully convicted and incarcerated about what was I doing that night and why, why have I ended up on death row behind me. I mean, I was at home with my family and now I am sitting on death row.
So I had to think about that night and relive that night over and over and over again, because I just could not understand how my actions that night, being home with my family ended me up on death row for a crime I knew absolutely nothing about. It just blows my mind as I continue to think about it even today.
Rocky Dhir: So let’s go back to that night, the night of August 18, 1992 when your life changed forever. The ensuing 18 years you were incarcerated and then later exonerated. 18 years of your life. I mean that’s — basically, if your incarceration were a person, it would have grown to the legal age of majority by that point. I mean that is an entire lifetime for some people. That’s a very, very long time.
So August 18, 1992, there was a horrific, horrific murder and arson that took place. Can you tell us a little bit about the crime for which you were eventually convicted and then exonerated? What exactly happened?
Anthony Graves: Yes. That was a crime that took place in a small town of Somerville, Texas. An entire family had been murdered. There were six people total. There were four children under the age of 10. There was a 16-year-old daughter and a 45-year-old grandma. They were shot, stabbed, bludgeoned to death. Gasoline was poured all over their bodies and the house was burned down.
And so imagine a crime of that magnitude in such a small county. There was a lot of outrage and fear. And so, as a matter of fact, the Mayor of that county at the time came out and said that whoever has done the crime didn’t even deserve a trial. They should be caught and hanged, and that’s how they later proceeded with the case, because a week later they had a funeral and a young man showed up with bandages all over his body and he instantly became a suspect.
This young man was the father of one of the children that had been murdered in the fire. And so when the funeral was over, the Texas Rangers followed him home and asked if they could talk to him, took him to the DPS office, interrogated him over 14 hours. Still today nobody knows everything that he said, but at the end they asked him to call the name of someone who could have done it with him and they will let him go.
He, according to his story, thought he had seen me in a jeep with some other guy on his way to the DPS office, and when they asked him to call a name, being that he thought he had just seen me previous, he called my name. They asked him to give a story. He gave seven different stories.
And within hours, there was a knock on my door. I was taken to the police station, charged with capital murder, sat in jail for two-and-a-half-years awaiting trial and I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death, just on a lie.
Rocky Dhir: Now, let’s talk for a second about the man with the bandages who had named you to the Texas Rangers; his name was Robert Carter, right?
Anthony Graves: Correct.
Rocky Dhir: Did you know Robert Carter during this time? How were you guys acquainted? I mean, tell us about your relationship with him.
Anthony Graves: Yes. It’s so crazy because this young man had married a cousin of mine that I grew up with and we grew up close, but just like within your family tree, when you grow up, you spread out, but that was still my cousin. So I imagined that during that time that they talked about their family tree, so he knew my name through my cousin, but we never had a personal relationship.
As I sit and talk to you now, I talk to you more than I ever had a conversation with him. It’s just strange that he called my name. We had no connections other than my cousin that he was married to and I ended up on death row. He couldn’t even tell you my nickname on the streets. He couldn’t tell you anything about me and yet, they made him out to be my best friend and then that caused me to lose my freedom.
Rocky Dhir: Now, you mentioned earlier that you were — you sat in jail for about two years, so you were convicted in 1994 and then sentenced to death row.
Anthony Graves: Correct.
Rocky Dhir: When you were awaiting trial and when the investigation was taking place, there was a District Attorney named Charles Sebesta, and the lead Texas Ranger on the case, Ray Coffman. When you talked to them, when they questioned you about this particular case or your involvement in it, I am assuming you told them you were innocent, you were able to give them names of people that could vouch for your whereabouts. What happened with all that? Why would they pinpoint you?
Anthony Graves: Listen, man, let’s describe who I am at that time. I am a young Black man with not many resources, okay? Another young Black man just lied on me and said that I was involved in a crime that drives the highest emotion. It’s a recipe for success for a district attorney who wants to just seek a conviction. All he has to do is get someone in there with no resources that looks like me and can pin the case on him.
That’s exactly what happened with me, because there was no reason for them to pursue me the way they did when they had all the evidence that suggested that I was indeed innocent.
As a matter of fact, we found out 10 years later that Mr. Carter, who initially lied on me the same night, told them that he lied and that I was innocent. They never divulged that information to us. They just went on and pursued the case and sent me in jail for like two-and-a-half years, trying to build a case on me out of thin air.
So it was just bad judgment. I think it was very intentional, because they didn’t think anyone would question their integrity around such a high profile case. That’s the big problem for our system. There are not many checks and balances when it comes to our district attorneys and our law enforcement and it leaves our systems and our people vulnerable out here. I was vulnerable to a system that had decided that they wanted to convict me of a crime I didn’t commit.
Rocky Dhir: Now, eventually when you went to trial in 1994, can you tell us a little bit about the type of case that the prosecution put on and the type of defense that you put up. Obviously there was a jury and there was a jury verdict and I think most people tend to think that when a case goes to a jury, at that point whatever the jury decides must be the correct decision. In your case that turned out not to be the case. So can you walk us through what happened at the trial stage?
Anthony Graves: Let me take you through the initial voir dire proceedings, because I think it is very important.
Rocky Dhir: This is when the jury is being questioned about the case.
Anthony Graves: This is when the jury is being questioned to see if they can qualify to sit on the jury.
Rocky Dhir: They can give a fair and impartial verdict. Okay. Sure.
Anthony Graves: That’s how it’s supposed to be, but unfortunately that’s not always the case.
Anyway, so during voir dire, my attorneys and the state can question each potential juror that come up there, you guys know, and they examine the juror to see if they are qualified. My attorney would ask each potential juror one question and at least six to seven out of ten of them I remember will have the same response. And that question was, how do you feel about my client Mr. Graves sitting here today? And a lot of the response was, he must have done something otherwise you wouldn’t have him here. They became the jury of my appeal.
Now, there’s something really fundamentally wrong with that, that someone can sit up there and prejudge you before the trial even starts and be still qualified to sit on the jury, because we have this rehabilitation of the jury by asking them if he can follow the law. That is so — it’s so wrong on so many levels, because these men and these women initially said I had to have done something and yet they were qualified to sit on my jury. That was a recipe for disaster from day 1. Okay?
Rocky Dhir: So Anthony, if I could just — and I don’t mean to cut you off, but you raised an interesting question that I think a lot of specifically lawyers in Texas would be interested to maybe dive a little bit more deeply into.
So it sounds like you are saying, in some parts of the country they have got voir dire and here in Texas we call it voir dire, that the voir dire process is flawed based on your experience. How do you think we should change it since you went through this and you have had time to reflect on it, what should have been done differently in your view?
Anthony Graves: Well, I think what should definitely be changed is called the shuffling of the jury. I don’t think that you should be allowed to examine certain people and then when those that come upfront, they don’t look like you, you could get the chance to reshuffle the jury and get the ones that look like you to come back up to the front, I think that’s just bad. It’s bad on so many levels. I think it also goes up against the 10:41 motion.
I also feel like when it comes to the jury, once we select the jury, a jury has to be better informed with their role, what role they do play in this thing, because the more informed they can be, the less likely they will get caught up in their emotions and run the verdict based on emotions.
It happens too many times, because jurors are not — they are the most important people in the room, in the courtroom, but the most uninformed. They walk off the street as laypeople. They don’t know any law, and yet, I watch the state as well as defense try to keep things from — try to manipulate the facts and all they have to go on is everything that you are throwing out at them. So they give an incomplete picture and they come back and they read a verdict that is wrong.
And I think that’s important, because we have failed to inform our jury on what their role really is about and how they need to speak to the fact and how to assess the fact. We don’t educate our jury. We just send them in there and say make the best decision, and then we have a court after that that will uphold their decision, nor they don’t know much about the law and how they were manipulated in to deciding what the facts were.
So I think that with the jury, we break down our system when our jury system is uninformed on a very important case that can cause a man his life. That system doesn’t work. We need to have better informed jurors, even if we have to go to jurors that have criminal justice background, but we cannot continue to let people walk off the street and make these important decisions about the fate of a man or a woman without being fully informed. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Rocky Dhir: So Anthony, you raised two topics here that I want to explore for a second with you. The first is how the jury is informed and knowing their role. In other words, I guess how the court should instruct them on the role that they play in the process.
The second issue you raised was about how informed the jury is about the background facts, and according to what you just said, you had both the prosecution and the defense trying to hide things from the jury.
So let’s start with the first topic. How would you have instructed the jury if you could go back and do it all over again, how should judges and lawyers make sure that jurors are instructed on their role?
Anthony Graves: Oh man, listen, once you pick your jury, okay, you don’t go on a trial the next day. Once you pick the jury, that’s when I think the state and the defense should come together and they get to explain the roles to the juror, what their roles really are, the fact.
I think on both sides they should be very honest with the jury about how to follow the facts, educate the jury, so that when a trial starts, the jury is informed. They know how to follow a tape. It’s not about the 00:13:34 up their crimes and then they all of a sudden run the verdict based on the emotion. We can’t do that. And we are talking about real reform. We have to better inform the jury.
And I think that 00:13:46 at least set them up an hour or two hours before the trial even begins, or three hours, or half a day and educate them on their role. What the facts are, from both sides, not just one, and whatever needs to be done, sit there and educate these people in this case and how to follow this case to reach the best conclusion. We don’t do that.
Rocky Dhir: What do you wish that the judge had told your jurors about their role? Was there something specific, a sentence or a phrase that should have been used in your view to maybe have mitigated what happened in your case?
Anthony Graves: Well, I don’t have the magic one sentence that could really capture what I am trying to explain here. But what I am saying is that when you suppress evidence that’s very relevant that can shed light on the case and a judge grants that and the jury don’t know about that.
Let me just give an example. So my key alibi witness who was there to testify for me had waited in front of the grand jury two-and-a-half years prior to testify on my behalf, never wavered about my innocence, never was told that she would ever be indicted on anything.
Two-and-a-half years later, the day she was going to testify, the prosecutor jumps up and tells the judge, Judge, I need to put some old records outside the presence of the jury. The judge excused the jury. The prosecutor goes on to say and my alibi witness has now become basically a suspect and that should she testify, it’s highly likely he is going to seek an indictment of capital murder against her.
Now, she is 22 years old, without a 00:15:34, she has no attorney. My attorney goes and tells her exactly what the prosecutor said and she jumps up, all hysterical, runs out the courtroom crying.
Okay. So when the jury comes back in, during closing argument, the prosecutor jumps up and says, well, where is his witness that said that he was with her that night? Why is she not here to testify? The jury did not know that he just threatened her with capital murder should she do testify. Why the jury wasn’t made aware of that?
Rocky Dhir: Now, the alibi witness you are referring to is Yolanda Mathis, am I right?
Anthony Graves: Yes sir.
Rocky Dhir: And I think she was — was she your girlfriend at that time, when all this took place?
Anthony Graves: She was my girlfriend at that time, yes sir.
Rocky Dhir: Okay. So Yolanda could have vouched for your whereabouts and where you were on the night of August 18, 1992 when this horrific crime took place?
Anthony Graves: Right.
Rocky Dhir: And when your trial was taking place, when Yolanda was about to take the stand, was that the first time she had been informed that she was a suspect in this case or that she might be potentially indicted?
Anthony Graves: Yes, the very first time, two-and-a-half years later.
Rocky Dhir: So for all the listeners out there that might be wondering about some of the background facts and where you can learn about the cast of characters. There are actually two articles that came out in 2010 in Texas Monthly Magazine and this particular article was very, very important to Anthony’s case and it actually helped bring to light some of the injustices that were taking place.
For those of you that are interested, these articles were written by Pamela Colloff, and the first one was called ‘Innocence Lost’ and the second one was called ‘Innocence Found’. And it is all about Anthony’s story. It goes into the characters. It tells you about Yolanda. It tells you about Charles Sebesta, all of the different people and the roles that they played in leading up to this.
So if anybody does want to know more, please pick up those articles. And of course, if you really want to get the skew, pick up Anthony’s book, ‘Infinite Hope’. And Anthony, we are going to talk about that here in a second.
But what you were alluding to earlier, you said that the jury came back, they never heard from Yolanda Mathis, and then in closing arguments, the prosecutor got up and effectively asked, where is this alibi witness that Mr. Graves keeps referring to?
Anthony Graves: Yes.
Rocky Dhir: So you were going back to how the prosecution and the defense kept things from the jury. What do you think the defense could have done in that instance? Was there something that the defense should have done or could have done to maybe better inform this jury in your view?
Anthony Graves: Yeah, I think that my defense attorney, number one, had never tried a capital case. I was the very first capital case that he had tried. Now, he had sat on the case when they pled guilty, but he had never tried a capital case. So he made a plethora of errors that to no fault of his own. He was just inexperienced.
But I think definitely that one of the things that he should have done was ask for a hearing on that. He should have stopped the trial and asked for a hearing on this, because this man just stood up there and said that my witness for the first time was going to be charged with capital murder if she testified during the middle of trial. He should have asked for a continuance. He should have asked for a hearing on that. And we should have heard what the evidence were that led them to feel like my witness would now be a suspect.
So that was based on inexperience. I mean, I know back to my defense attorney, because I watched him cry when they wrongfully convicted me. He really believed in my innocence. He was just inexperienced and he was dealing with a prosecutor who was con and conniving and seeking a conviction. But he definitely could have asked to stop the trial and asked for a hearing on that, file a motion for a hearing on that to find out whether in fact was this credible or not, because the prosecutor had been playing so many games with us. But he didn’t do that.
I think the judge should have notified the jury, should have been something in place for the juror, at least the referee, the neutral party should have said to the jurors, once Mr. Sebesta has made that statement, let’s correct the record, Ms. Mathis was here to testify, but Mr. Sebesta decided to charge her should she come, so we want the jury to understand that, but he did not, out for whatever reason, maybe he doesn’t have that right.
But if the judge would have taken control, seeing that, hearing that, knowing that Mr. Sebesta was lying, knowing he is manipulating the truth, the judge should have had the right to say no, stop, we need to correct the referee. He didn’t do that. He allowed this injustice to take place. He sat up there in his robe and allowed Mr. Sebesta to play with the facts so loosely that it led to my wrongful conviction.
Rocky Dhir: And at trial, did Robert Carter ultimately testify against you even though he barely knew you and you guys really had no dealings on the night of August 18, 1992, did he get up and ultimately testify against you?
Anthony Graves: He ultimately testified against me, because what we didn’t know is that they had brought Mr. Carter back the night before trial. They brought him back.
Rocky Dhir: Prepping him for his testimony, right?
Anthony Graves: For his testimony. Mr. Carter was refusing to testify because he said Mr. Graves is innocent. So they said they are going to take a polygraph test of him. They never asked him any questions about Mr. Graves. They asked him about his wife and then they said, well, you know, you failed the polygraph.
So there is no statute of limitations on capital murder, we are going after your wife. So that’s when Mr. Carter decided, I will give you all what you all want. We didn’t know that Mr. Carter was back there refusing to testify on the grounds that I was actually innocent. We found this out 10 years later.
Rocky Dhir: So this was not disclosed to you or your attorneys that on the eve of his trial, Robert Carter had effectively confessed to the prosecution that you had nothing to do with this case and that he was effectively wrongfully accusing you?
Anthony Graves: And come to find out that was about the umpteenth time he had confessed this. The night that he initially lied, throughout when they had him in jail, and the night before and the morning that he was scheduled to testify during the trial, he was refusing on the ground that he said, this man is innocent.
Rocky Dhir: Now Anthony, did you ever get a chance to talk to Robert face to face and ask him, hey, you know, why are you fingering me for this crime? Did you ever get that answer from him? Do we know? It just seems odd for somebody to point to somebody they hardly know.
Anthony Graves: Well, let me just say this. It might seem odd, but when you are in custody and you have been interrogated by law enforcement who has made up their mind that you are guilty and then are not hearing nothing else, it’s very intimidating. So I don’t blame anyone for saying what they said in those moments because it’s very intimidating. But the fact of the matter is, he did come back and correct the record the same night and that’s the part they didn’t want to hear.
Now, did I ever talk to him about, I would say 10 years later we were on death row together and they had put us on the same part and they had put us in the same rec group, and my neighbor had told me, hit on the wall and said, hey man, I think they got that dude in the rec group. I said what dude? He said that dude that lied on you.
The next morning we went out to the rec group. They brought him out to the rec group and he was right there before me. When I walked through the gate, I walked right up to him, and by the time I got halfway to him, he said, man, I just want to apologize to you and your family for lying on you. And I said to him, I said, man, I don’t even want to know why you lied, because whatever reason you lied, I would rather for you to tell either my attorney or the press or the state. All I am going to tell you is this, you and I can’t be in the same rec group together. I forgive you, but that’s for me and that allows me to move forward, but we can’t be in the same group. Do you understand that?
He said, yeah, I understand that man and I know how you feel. I apologize to you. And he walked over to the gate and he told the officer, officer, I need to get out of this rec group because I lied on that man in trial, and the officer opened up the door and let him get out and I have never see him again.
Rocky Dhir: And how did you keep your composure? Now, this is something that’s not necessarily in any of the articles that we have read, so this is something — at least for me, I am learning first time talking to you, which is very, very interesting.
So you meet Robert Carter on death row 10 years after you have been wrongfully convicted based on his testimony. A testimony that it sounds like was perjured testimony, was untrue. So you are meeting him in the rec yard, how did you not just — how did you not deck him? I mean, most of us would have wanted to just take a huge wild swing at him and beat him to within an inch of his life. What inside of you kept you calm?
Anthony Graves: Well, first of all, let me just correct you and say that it doesn’t sound like perjury; it was ruled perjury by the Fifth District Court of Appeals. In fact, it was perjured testimony.
Now, how I kept my cool was at that time this whole case had become bigger than me. 00:24:57 had become bigger than me. It wasn’t me anymore and I had already discovered that, the lies, the manipulations, the games that they played to make this man lie on me wasn’t really about him. It was about a system that was broken. And I wanted to stay focused on being able to advocate for that in terms of just being upset because they made a man lie on me that they knew was lying.
The system should not allow a man to just lie on people who don’t know you and you lose your life and your freedom. So it was 00:25:28. It was about a system that had failed to protect me when I was innocent.
Rocky Dhir: Now, in the Texas Monthly article that Pamela Colloff wrote, in the second installment, ‘Innocence Found’, there was a point where you were already free, you were out of prison, and Pamela had asked you whether you were feeling bitterness or anger and I think you said something to the effect of, I won’t be bitter and angry unless things don’t change. If things don’t change, then I will be bitter and angry. Do you remember saying that?
Anthony Graves: Yeah, man. I mean I feel that everyday. This is why I get up and I share my story and I try to share my experiences so that we understand the need for this great reform. And I think that’s the only way the State of Texas and the United States in general can apologize to me and over 100 some other men who has walked up that door free that you changed the system. You make the system more equal for all of us.
I understand that we make mistakes. That’s fine. We were built to make mistakes. It’s that when we don’t own them, when we don’t admit to them and we start trying to cover things up is that when our system starts to fail us. When we make a mistake and we admit it, we can learn from it and make our system better. That’s all part of it, but we don’t want to do that.
Politics is so ingrained in our system that we can’t afford to be honest. So we have to cover everything up and just leave the system as it is and as is getting the lives of people like me.
Rocky Dhir: Do you think maybe the country has become more aware of those who are wrongfully convicted? Has there been any positive change do you think during your experience?
Anthony Graves: Social media has made people more aware about injustices in our criminal justice system than ever before, particularly the death penalty. Every morning when I get up and I see articles on Facebook about men who have been exonerated, who are just now walking out of prison.
A man just walked out of prison less than two weeks ago that spent 45 years of his life in prison for a crime he did not commit; went in when he was 26, come out when he was like 79, okay? These stories are happening everyday and people are becoming more aware of it.
So I do feel like things are changing. Listen, I take my hat off to Texas for trying to get out in the front of this change. We are making strides around here on paper, but it’s on paper right now. It’s not in practice. Once we catch up to the paper and stuff and put it in practice, Texas would be miles ahead of everyone else on criminal justice reform.
So I do see changes. Hey, when I see young people taking the streets on gun laws, I say, man, there’s hope for a bright future in this country. Look at the young people today, they are not just sitting and letting the politicians tell them what they should think and feel, but they are actually taking action, and that’s what is needed across this country.
We should stand up against injustice just like we stand up to gun violence, and when we do that I think that, yeah, the system is changing and I look forward to the future and seeing how these young kids are going to come up and make us all feel that we are all Americans and not just some of us.
Rocky Dhir: One of the turning points, and I keep going back to Pamela Colloff’s article from Texas Monthly, because the first installment of that, ‘Innocence Lost’ was the name of it, in that very first installment she was interviewing Charles Sebesta, the DA who had prosecuted you the first time around. And in it during the interview he had said something to her to the effect that on the night before his testimony, Robert Carter had effectively admitted to him that he was having doubts about his testimony that he had wrongfully pointed you out.
And when Pamela Colloff had asked him that question, did Robert Carter say this to you? He said something to the effect of he did tell me that. Yes, he did tell me something like that. That quote from that article is effectively what the federal courts used to grant your writ of habeas corpus and say yes, you were wrongfully convicted and overturned your conviction. Am I getting that correct?
Anthony Graves: Yeah. I mean he admitted to Geraldo Rivera, because Geraldo Rivera went and interviewed him and the thing about a lie is that if you don’t remember, they change them, and Charles Sebesta didn’t remember all the lies they told to convict me. So for the first time he was honest, when someone asked him, did Mr. Carter ever tell you that Mr. Graves was innocent? He said yes, he told me that. He said why did you pursue Mr. Graves? He said it was my gut feeling that Mr. Graves was involved. He said it was not a fact; it was just your gut feeling? Then he went on to explain how he used the 00:29:51. So yeah, he admitted to it.
Rocky Dhir: So I guess it sounds like maybe the Colloff article got to the attention of Geraldo Rivera. He then interviewed Charles Sebesta, and then Charles Sebesta on television had admitted that Robert Carter had made that admission to him the night before Robert Carter’s testimony. Is that — is that –
Anthony Graves: Yeah, well, let me correct you, because it was Geraldo first that came down and interviewed me in 2000.
Rocky Dhir: That’s 2000? Okay.
Anthony Graves: He did that. In other words, people have known about this case for a long time. It’s just that nobody was moved, until Nicole came onboard and when Nicole came onboard that’s when she took it to the next level. She used the information that she gathered to make sure that everybody knew and that’s how they got into my brief in front of the —
Rocky Dhir: Now let’s talk about Nicole. We’ve not introduced Nicole yet. Let’s tell everybody who Nicole is. You’re talking about Nicole Casarez, right?
Anthony Graves: The greatest attorney alive, man. The greatest attorney. I hate to — I know I won’t make anybody feel bad, but I am telling you from breathing today, the greatest attorney alive.
Rocky Dhir: Tell us about how you came to know Nicole and how your relationship developed and what she did for you? Iit’s a very interesting story and we haven’t gotten to that yet and so let’s talk about it now. Let’s talk about Nicole and eventually, we will get to Kelly Seigler and that whole cast of characters that eventually got you to where you were able to walk out of prison.
Anthony Graves: Yes. Nicole is my big sister and my angel because I watched the woman fight for over eight years without any compensation because she believed in justice. That’s 31:38 every prosecutor and any attorney, everyone took that and took it seriously, but I found out that Nicole really believed in those words, the oath that she took.
Rocky Dhir: Now how did you meet Nicole? Let’s start there. Let’s talk about how you guys came into contact.
Anthony Graves: I met Nicole as that Nicole is a Journalism Professor at the University of St. Thomas. She and her students were attending a Wrongful Conviction Clinic in University of Houston by Professor David Dow, who started the Texas Innocence Network. And David was talking about my case because a freelance reporter had contacted him and said, “Hey, you all really need to look into this case.” So David was talking about my case and talked about how I was on a fast track for an execution, but a lot of investigation needed to be done and then he just asked them who would like to look into it.
Nicole and her students, they looked at each other and nobody else raised their hand and she just raised her hand and they were excited to look into a case. Not because they thought I was innocent, they just want to look into the case. So Nicole and her students started looking into my case, started going around and reading about it, and finding the witness and talked to them before they even came to me. I think she told me she had been doing this research in my case for two years, then finally she came down to death row to visit me one day. And when she came, she said that and she asked me, is there anything you want to tell me? And I remember the first thing I told her. Yes, ma’am. First thing I want you to know I’m not going to sit out here and try to prove to you that I’m innocent.
I’m just going to ask you if you will help me with this case because if you do your job, you find evidence, you’ll find out that I am innocent. But I didn’t want to tell her that, didn’t want to try to convince her that I was innocent because that is this notion out here, the stigma that everybody that goes to prison, all say they’re innocent and that is just so far from the truth, but it works for politicians. I didn’t feel that I could just say that and feel comfortable with it because I didn’t want her to say, yeah, right. Everybody say they’re innocent. So I said do the work and she went out and she did the work and it took eight years, that she went out and she found all the evidence that truly pointed to my actual innocence, man and I ended up walking out of prison because of that great woman.
Rocky Dhir: Can you tell us what it was like walking out of incarceration into freedom for the first time? What did that feel like?
Anthony Graves: Wow, man. So, let me tell you about that day. So I woke up. I’m behind bars and I’m responding to some questions that Pamela Colloff had written to me in regard to an article that she had been writing and the reason why we had did it like that because the sheriff at the jail and I decided that Pamela could not come back and visit me without being on the telephone so that they can hear everything we are talking about, so we were losing our privilege as a media privilege. So we decided that we would just result to writing and I was sitting there writing, she was asking me — she asked me about 34:45 and I was writing to her, I say, yeah, I’ve heard that she is the type of person that will throw anything on the wall to see if it sticks and this and that, but her reputation I’m not afraid of it. I’m innocent she 34:57, and right then, the officer came and knocked on my window because they had me in solitary confinement and he told me to put my shirt on, let’s go walk down the hallway.
He was taking me somewhere and I asked him where he was taking me and he said, just come and go with me, and we ended up walking down the hallway and I got afraid because I’ve never been upfront before and I thought maybe my attorney was here but he didn’t take me that way, so I told him — I said, man, I can’t go nowhere with you, officer, without my attorney, because by then I had learned about 35:27 right and I wasn’t going nowhere with no officer without an attorney. And so when I finally get to the front, 35:34 he opened up the door and I see Nicole there.
So Nicole, she stood up and I could tell she was fighting tears and in my mind I was just thinking, well, it’s just some more bad news, but they’re going to kill me or they’re going to free me because I was refusing to take any type of a deal, even just to walk out that day. I told them, you are going to have to feed me in my cell because you are going to kill me or free me. I’m not going to compromise the truth.” And so this particular day, she stood up and she told me, she said, hey, Anthony, remember when you told me that God would do it? And I said, yes, but in my mind, I was wondering where I would get food because I was hungry. I didn’t know what was about to happen and she told me. She said, well, I just want to let you know that God did do it because the State just dismissed all the charges against you and I was like, what?
She said, yes, Ms. Seigler dismissed all the charges against you and she is not dismissing them because evidence got lost or witnesses have died. She dismissed them because she believes in your innocence and she is going to go on national television tomorrow and let the whole world know. And all I can do is ask her, what do I do now? I’ve been incarcerated for 18 and-a-half years and I’ve been fighting for this day, but I’m still fighting even though the day has arrived and I didn’t know how to put 36:46, and so I asked her, what do I do now? And she said, well, put your clothes on and get out of here. By that time my officer came and said, you want to go get your profit. I said, yeah, but I didn’t want no profit.
I was just so discombobulated because I couldn’t believe that finally this day is here, this day that I dreamed so many dreams about and if this is not going to be real, how am I going to come back to this? So I was so scared to even believe the information that she had just told me. And that when I walked out in the hallway, it just started to dawn on me that, hey man, it’s over. It’s over. So when I got to the cell, man, they asked me what did I want, then I basically told them I did not want none. I want to get the hell out of here before you all change your mind. So he said, well, you want your pictures and everything? And yeah I took my pictures and my legal work and just like that, at 45-years-old. I went in when I was 26. At 45-years-old, I was walking out the side door of a jail with everything I owned in a little box from 18 and-a-half years wrongfully convicted.
Rocky Dhir: This is the fall of 2010, right?
Anthony Graves: Sir?
Rocky Dhir: When you walked out.
Anthony Graves: I walked out October 27, 2010.
Rocky Dhir: Now there was — for the benefit of all the listeners who are wondering, we’ve talked a bit about Kelly Seigler; and Anthony, if you don’t mind, I’m going to try to summarize this just to make sure everybody knows. Kelly Seigler, she was appointed the special prosecutor over your case after your writ of habeas corpus was granted at the federal level. So she was supposed to effectively re-prosecute you and in the process of going over all of the boxes of information and going over witness reports, talking to people, she and another Texas ranger had effectively spoken to 60 people in the course of a 30-day period. And at the end of this process, she came to the conclusion just as Nicole Casarez had that you were completely innocent. So Kelly, as the prosecutor, had basically said, I’m not going to pursue this case. Is that a fair assessment?
Anthony Graves: Yeah, it is because I have spoken with her several times since. I mean, we’re friends now, but yeah, she told me. She said, I came in to re-prosecute you and send me back to death row. I went through 25 boxes of evidence and I just see not one thing that connected you to this crime. And then I started going over all the records of the DA and I start seeing all the things that the prosecutor was doing and I was like, oh my God.
I just literally started seeing how this man was really just breaking all the rules to convict someone innocent. And she said, I didn’t want to stop there so I went and I called in all my investigators one by one and I asked them what did they think about this case? They said, Mr. Graves, each investigator said to me, this man is innocent. And she said, that’s when I went to the prosecutor and told them we have to dismiss this case because this man is innocent.
They together went to the judge and they told the judge, you have to release this man. You need to sign the Dismissal Order because he is innocent. And she was refusing to do so. So they basically had threatened the judge to go to the media and tell the media that she was refusing to let an innocent man go and she then just signed the Dismissal Order. So, reluctantly, she signed the Dismissal Order and that’s how I ended eventually walking up out the door.
Rocky Dhir: Was life on the outside hard after 18 and-a-half years? Was there an adjustment or did you just come back out and pick up right where you left off?
Anthony Graves: No, my man. It was a big adjustment. Man, the whole world had changed on me. Technology had changed, more houses have been built here, but it seemed like they are on top of each other. Politics has engrained, I mean it was just really crazy, man, but it was exciting because I have fought for my right to be free because that was my right. I hadn’t done nothing wrong and then they take it. So it was exciting, but it was scary. I went through a lot of emotions, man. I’ve dealt with a lot of things because it was just all messed up. There was just one day where I lived outside my body because I could not believe what was happening even though I fought all this time and I just lived outside my body and watch myself, how I tried to — I guess, kind of too much of that got here and be part of a normal society. It was very challenging.
Rocky Dhir: So, tell us this, what was the very first thing you ate when you got out of prison?
Anthony Graves: Very first thing I ate, man. I went home with my investigator, Rico Hayden and his wife had made a pot roast. She is a Russian and she made a pot roast.
Rocky Dhir: She made a Russian pot roast. That’s pretty — that’s sounds pretty interesting, you told me earlier you had kolache for breakfast. You are having kolaches for breakfast and Russian pot roast for dinner. This is great.
Anthony Graves: You know what, I didn’t really eat that much because I couldn’t. I was so excited. So, let’s say I was presented with an opportunity to eat roast but I couldn’t. So, the next morning is when I really ate and that was barbeque. I had the interview with a lot of media in Houston. I was in Austin so we had to drive all the way back to Houston. Then the guy — my investigator like – do you want to get something to eat, man? And it was like 11 o’clock. I was like, yeah, man, let me get some barbeque. I haven’t had barbeque in 20 years, so we stopped.
Rocky Dhir: You had barbeque for breakfast?
Anthony Graves: About 10 o’clock. Let’s say 11 o’clock, so yeah.
Rocky Dhir: It’s like a brunch. It’s like a barbeque brunch.
Anthony Graves: And it was good too because by the time I got to the interview, I had barbeque juice all over my shirt. I had to go change my shirt for the media. Yeah, so it was barbeque that I ate the first time, man, and it was really delicious.
Rocky Dhir: Now, tell us a little bit about the book, ‘Infinite Hope’. What inspired you to write this and what are you hoping people take away from the book?
Anthony Graves: Wow. What inspired me to write this? Since I’ve been out, I have done a lot. I really put my story out there. I was the first one to take advantage of the 42:46 the prosecutor and had him disbarred. I took advantage of the amendment of that law, allowed me to do that. I’ve been trying it all over the world. Educate people about our need for criminal justice reform and tell them my story from here to Rome, and other places, and it just got to the point where everytime I will go and do something, someone will come up to me and talk about how you inspired they were with my life story, and it just made me feel like, I need to put this between the pages of the book so that many others can read and hear this story because it’s a great story and 43:28 allow me to be involved in our criminal justice system, 43:31 allowed me to reform it and it just 43:34 having hope regardless of your circumstances in life.
So at that point, I decided that, I’m going to sit here and I’m going to write this book, because actually I started it awhile ago in death row, but I put it up because I felt like my journey has been completed. I wanted to complete the journey by just barring the prosecutor. I’m just going to be out and once I disbarred the prosecutor, I was like, okay, it’s time to write the book, because I wanted to show people how, when you do good, good can come back to you and when you do bad, at some point it catch up with you.
Rocky Dhir: Now, in your book, you’ve got a poem here called “Surviving Death Row”.
Anthony Graves: Yeah.
Rocky Dhir: It’s at the very beginning of Part 3 of your book. If you have that available in front of you, would you mind reading us that poem? It’s a very powerful poem you wrote.
Anthony Graves: You would ask me that, but I think 44:20. I also wrote a poem about a judge.
Rocky Dhir: A poem about a judge?
Anthony Graves: Well, I was just thinking about how did he do it sentencing your death, like he was going to live forever. We don’t become immortal because we believe in the death penalty. It’s not that it 44:45 you because you believe in the death penalty. And so I was in my 44:48 one night just thinking, it was like three something in the morning. So, I just started writing these poems and actually, I wrote the one you’re talking about, about 3 o’ clock that morning.
Rocky Dhir: And then, there’s another one in your book on page 104 called “The Judge”. You wrote “The Judge” in 2004, so you can pick. You want to read “The Judge” or do you want to read “Prison Life”?
Anthony Graves: Let me read — okay. I’m going to read “Prison Life”. Yeah. This thing in Surviving Death Row. You want me to read it?
Rocky Dhir: Yeah, read it for us.
Anthony Graves: It says, Sitting in this 6 x 9 cell. Living under conditions worse than hell. Locked away from society simply because a man lied on me. Everyone says, stay positive, but it’s a struggle every day. These conditions discourage me. The shit won’t go away. I’m not always in the best of mood, especially when I see the bars. I’d rather be lying on the beach, looking at the moon and the stars. Convicted for a crime I didn’t commit, is a feeling I can’t explain. It’s the kind of things that drives a man insane. You’re a strong man is what I often hear; but man, I don’t think people really understand my fear. Sitting in the cell 23 hours a day, staring at the things that’s making my body decay. I just shake my head when I sit here and think. How the hell did I end up here? This place stinks. Somebody! Anybody! Get me out of this place! I’m not an animal. I’m part of the human race. But I guess I’ll lie down and try to sleep because I really haven’t gotten any in a week. Don’t forget to tell your friends about prison life. This place isn’t for me, for men, children or your wife. So, I’ll pray that you never get to see this place. It’s not a pretty sight. It doesn’t have a face. It’s prison life.”
Yeah, I was just lying in the bed, man, and I was looking at the walls and I was just thinking about my life and it’s like, how did I end up here? I mean, why am I sitting on death row? I mean, I haven’t done nothing to nobody. I’m a good person. How the hell I end up on death row?
And then all of a sudden my pen was in my hand and I started writing and I never read the poem before, so these were my real emotions at that time.
Rocky Dhir: So, you went from being on death row, at that time a convicted villain to now being a published author and a speaker on Criminal Justice Reform.
Anthony — ladies and gentlemen, the book is ‘Infinite Hope’. You really should get your hands on it. It’s a powerful piece and for lawyers in particular, we need to remind ourselves that as much as the system went wrong, it was a group of lawyers and journalists, who all helped to set this ship right as well. So, let’s get our hands on this book. Let’s read it, and as lawyers, let’s make sure that we study what happened and try to do what Anthony has asked us to do and see how we can improve our system.
Anthony, it’s been a pleasure to have you here. Your story is very powerful and I wish we had all day, I wish we had a whole week to talk to you about your thoughts and your experiences, but you’ve really given us a lot to think about, so thank you so much for being here.
Anthony Graves: Well, Rocky, I really, really, really appreciate you guys inviting me on the show. Man, it just tells me that God is always good because everyday that I get to share my story is a good day. It’s a day that’s going to help move the needle, it’s a day that’s going to also save a life, so thank you guys for the platform this morning. I really appreciate it.
Rocky Dhir: Well, Anthony, thank you again. I hope you enjoyed what he had to say. It was an amazingly powerful message and just a compelling story.
So, what’s there to learn from this? What can you take away? Well, we’re going to find out. I am going to be joined here in just a few minutes by Patricia McConnico and Lowell Brown with the State Bar of Texas, so we’re going to take a quick break and Patricia and Lowell are going to join us. So stay tuned, I’ll be back in just a couple of seconds.
Rocky Dhir: And ladies and gentlemen, we are back. This is Rocky Dir with Texas Bar Talk, the official podcast for the State Bar of Texas and how appropriate that I have a couple of very, very honored colleagues here with me, both from the State Bar of Texas.
We’ve got Patricia McConnico; she should be no stranger to any of you out there who read the Texas Bar Journal. She is the Managing Editor for the Texas Bar Journal, and Patricia, you do a fantastic job. It’s a great publication.
And we’ve got Lowell Brown, Communications Division Director for the State Bar of Texas.
They’ve actually been here in the studio this entire time when we were talking with Anthony and it was such a powerful story. We had to take a few moments and talk.
Patricia, you’re actually the one who suggested bringing Anthony on. How did you come to learn about him and what do you want Texas lawyers to learn from this whole experience?
Patricia McConnico: Well, Rocky, I first learned about Anthony Graves when I was actually working at Texas Monthly and one of my colleagues was Pamela Colloff, who was working on this story. So, I have followed it for many years and then when I learned that he had a new book out, I thought that this would be a great opportunity for our listeners to hear his story if they had not already heard it before.
And as I was reading the book, the one thing that really struck me at the very beginning of the book was the day that he was thrown in jail and he felt like he was innocent and he didn’t do anything wrong, and what really struck out at me was that he didn’t really think that he needed a lawyer because he assumed that everyone knew that he was innocent because it seems so absurd to him that he was actually getting thrown in jail for a crime that he knew that he didn’t commit.
And so, to me, that really rung home that — even though, you maybe — you think you’re innocent, you really don’t realize the role that a lawyer can play in shaping what happens to you going through the legal process.
Rocky Dhir: Well, it’s funny because when we watch shows on TV, these crime shows and law shows, the characters, especially the police officer characters on these shows, they often kind of throw their arms up and roll their eyes the minute the person playing the suspect says, I want a lawyer and they say, well, okay, what do they need a lawyer for if they’re innocent? That seems to be portrayed in the popular media, and so, Patricia, what you’re saying is it’s a hugely important issue. A lot of people don’t realize because they watch TV and they think why would I need a lawyer if I’m actually innocent?
Lowell, do you think media plays a role in this and how do we as lawyers, maybe at least attempt to overcome that?
Lowell Brown: Sure, I think there is an incredible role that lawyers can play individually and through the State Bar of Texas and that is through one of the initiatives of the State Bar of Texas is law-related education and starting that initiative early in schools.
So, our State Bar Law Related Education Department really does stress the role of lawyers in society and why they’re so important and they actually develop a curriculum that takes it into schools. So, I think, the earlier we started and the more we can spread the word through the media, the more people will be aware of their rights.
Rocky Dhir: It’s such a huge issue that I think a lot of us don’t often think about at least in our daily lives. We get wrapped up in law practice. We don’t think about the bigger picture. This book ‘Infinite Hope’ that we heard Anthony talk a bit about, and Anthony is talking in general. Do you think it’s a real indictment on our legal system or is there something maybe different you could play? I mean, either one of you. What do you guys think is really the take away from this?
Lowell Brown: Well, I think one of the reasons we wanted to bring it to our listeners is that although lawyers in the legal system were a part of what went wrong in Anthony’s case. Ultimately, it also shows how the good lawyers who are working and committed to justice and seeing that justice is done can also right wrongs, and it’s great see in this story how they were dedicated lawyers and also journalism students and reporters who were pursuing the truth and how the truth did went out.
Rocky Dhir: Absolutely. Now, Patricia when Pamela Colloff was investigating this story and was about to write it, did you get a chance to talk to her behind the scenes and what she was learning as she wrote it or did you come to know of it once it was published in Texas Monthly?
Patricia McConnico: If I remember correctly, I think she did talk about the story a little bit as she was writing about it, but she didn’t give away too much. She was really focused in working on it and crafting her article. She is a very in-depth reporter that really listens to all aspects of things that are going on and then puts together a story that can really be powerful as we can see.
I do remember that once the story came out, it was just one of those stories where we knew that it was important to be out there and that it was hopefully something would result from the article that once it came out.
Rocky Dhir: Do you think she was surprised that it played such a pivotal role and ultimately freeing Anthony Graves?
Patricia McConnico: I can’t speak for her, but I can only think that knowing her and knowing that she likes to seek the truth, that I’m sure that she was happy that the truth did finally come out.
Rocky Dhir: Very interesting story about the interplay between the legal system and journalism and how the two kind of worked together to help right or wrong.
Well, Patricia and Lowell, thank you again for being here. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to what Patricia and Lowell had to say and for the contributions that they made. They both raised some very important points, but more importantly, these two are rock-stars and if you have not yet, you need to make sure that you come to the State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting every year. It happens in June and you don’t want to miss it. It’s in a different Texas City every year. It’s a lot of fun and you meet a lot of folks, and one of my favorite things is to hang out with the State Bar staff.
So, Patricia and Lowell, thank you again; and thank you for listening to the State Bar of Texas Podcast. If you like what you heard today, you know where to find us. You can find us at legaltalknetwork.com. There’s a lot of amazing content up there. You don’t want to miss it.
Also, remember to please rate us in Apple Podcast and/or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Thank you again. We will see you next time.
Outro: If you’d like more information about today’s show, please visit legaltalknetwork.com, go to texasbar.com/podcast subscribe via Apple Podcasts and RSS.
Find both, the State Bar of Texas and Legal Talk Network on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn or download the free app from Legal talk Network in Google Play and iTunes.
The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of nor are they endorsed by the State Bar of Texas, Legal Talk Network or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders or subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.