Anthony Charles Graves – known as United States Death Row Exoneree #138, spent 18 ½ years behind bars; 16 of those years in solitary confinement. Mr. Graves spent 12 years of his sentence on death row, and had 2 slated execution dates – for a horrific crime he didn’t commit: the 1992 brutal murders of six people, four of them children, in Somerville, Texas.
Anthony Graves’ nightmare started on August 22, 1992. He awoke that morning unaware of the tidal wave of events that would dramatically change the course of his life. Years later, Anthony remembers that fateful day as if it were yesterday:
“It was 11a.m. Sunday morning when I noticed a police car pulling up to my house so I went outside. I stopped to wait for the officer to get out of his car. He asked me my name and then proof of identification.
Once he confirmed it was me, he said that he had been instructed to come pick me up and bring me to the station. Since I knew that I had not done anything wrong, I went with the officer. What I didn’t know was that my worst nightmare awaited me… I was charged with capital murder.”
After being booked and interrogated for over 13 hours, Mr. Graves was then escorted to a cell. This is when he realized that this wasn’t a dream, it was reality. The 26 year-old son, brother, and father knew his fight would undoubtedly be one that called for, not just mere physical strength, but extraordinarily heightened emotional and spiritual strength beyond anything that he imagined.
In October 2010, an incredible turn of events took place. All charges against Anthony were dropped and he was set free. Prosecutors reviewing the case (Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham and Special Prosecutor Kelly Siegler of Harris County) found not only that Graves was innocent, but that then prosecuting attorney Charles Sebesta had engaged in numerous acts of prosecutorial misconduct. The most astonishing revelation uncovered by the prosecutors was that Robert Carter, the man who confessed to committing the murders and first identified Graves as an accomplice, later told Sebesta that he acted alone and that Graves was innocent.
Sebesta admitted that Carter made the confession to him during a television interview, but he dismissed Carter’s statement and kept information from Graves attorneys. Carter made the same statement right before he was strapped to the gurney and executed in 2000.
“We don’t need those types of district attorneys. That’s a criminal act. Sebesta is a criminal… in my book, but our system protects him. He still walks the streets. We don’t need those types of district attorneys. We don’t need those types of people in our system to protect and serve us. We need honest people who want to see justice” Anthony Graves
Anthony was exonerated after veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler looked into his conviction and determined that former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta withheld two statements, manufactured evidence, misled jurors and elicited false testimony; all charges which Sebesta denies.
“Charles Sebesta knew and guided directed every one of those people to get to the point he wanted to… and he lied, and he manipulated, and he fabricated, and he is a disgrace to the profession of prosecutors… and we can sit up here and talk about this case forever, but every single horrible thing that happened to Anthony happened because of Charles Sebesta… and its horrible” Kelly Siegler
Since Graves release his life’s mission has been one of awareness, reform and justice. He travels around the country and the world enlightening politicians, criminal justice reform organization, law students, and the general public about his gross injustice, a system that is flawed, and life altering acts of prosecutorial misconduct.
“I’m committed to being the voice of the voiceless. Right now we have a judicial system and death penalty that is broke and it needs to be fixed now. We also need to hold our politicians and elected officials accountable. Especially district attorneys and it’s up you the people to make sure we are making wise choices.” Anthony Graves
For almost two decades, Anthony Graves had to endure the grueling struggle of facing his own mortality while incarcerated and living on death row. Anthony witnessed over 350 executions, multiple suicide attempts by men using razors to cut their throats or wrists, hangings, insane outbursts by men going through extreme mental anguish, and severe mental and physical abuse among inmates.
While he was locked up Anthony’s anger became patience. His anger became motivational. His anger became inspirational. Anthony’s anger became the driving force that allowed him to reach out to the world every day.
“I was angry that my life was taken from me. My freedom was taken from me, but I was so angry that I knew that I was going to make a difference whenever I got the opportunity. That’s what anger did for me. It motivated me… and it motivates me now.” Anthony Graves
Ultimately, with Anthony’s unwavering perseverance and faith while “inside”, along with the tireless work of The Innocence Network and numerous supporters from the “outside”, enough pressure was put on the criminal justice system to tear down the walls of justice in this instance and prove Anthony’s innocence that let to his freedom.
You just want to believe that things are going to work out. I couldn’t afford to give up on being hopeful… because once that happens… then I would just be a dead man walking.” Anthony Graves
Today, Anthony Graves has turned a terrible tragedy into an amazing triumph. Anthony is not only an accomplished motivational speaker, community advocate, and consultant in both legal and criminal justice systems, he is also the founder of a non-profit organization, a prominent activist with the ACLU and other organizations, and serves on the Board of The Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Anthony has presented at prestigious universities within the United States and abroad like Yale University, The University of Texas, Emory University, Cornell University, and the University de Berne in Switzerland just to name a few.
Within the last four years of his release, Anthony almost immediately used his time to rally support for his cause by becoming engaged with organizations in support of their same missions. In 2011, he was one of the keynote speakers in the Amnesty International European Conference in Rome with dignitaries from Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland and others around the world. In that same year, he was the keynote speaker at the annual conference for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty where he was also honored with the 2011 Courage Award for exhibiting great courage and perseverance throughout the ordeal of his wrongful conviction. In 2012, Anthony was the keynote speaker for the American Bar Association Death Penalty Representation Project’s 25th Anniversary along with retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. That same year, Anthony testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Hearing on Solitary Confinement led by Senator Dick Durbin.
In 2013, Anthony was a panelist speaker at both the National Symposium on the Modern Death Penalty hosted by the American Bar Association and the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia. He was also keynote speaker at the 50th Anniversary of Gideon vs. Wainwright held by the American Bar Association in Marcos Island, Florida. He was honored by the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association where he received the Torch of Liberty Award. Also in 2013, Anthony decided to put his advocacy for criminal justice reform into action when he initiated his own projects to further his belief for change in the criminal justice system. Anthony established, with his own money, The Nicole B. Casarez Endowment Scholarship Fund, created for law school students matriculating into the University of Texas law School with a heart and passion for breaking up the paths within the criminal justice system that lead to injustice.
This scholarship was named after the attorney and law professor who tirelessly committed her time, skill, and resources to seeking justice for Anthony. This same year, Anthony chose to expand his national work through grass roots organizing when he again, used his own money, to launch The Anthony Graves Foundation. This Foundation serves to inspire at-risk youth whose parents have been incarcerated and to provide legal resources for indigent defendants in capital murder cases.
To culminate all his advocacy, efforts and honors that Anthony received over the years, there was nothing more rewarding when, on Martin Luther King Day in 2014; Anthony filed a historic grievance with the State of Texas against former District Attorney Charles Sebesta. The State of Texas Chief Disciplinary Council conducted their very through and extensive investigation to rightfully determine just cause for Anthony’s grievance and has fully accepted it as a formal complaint. A legal proceeding will now follow in which the State Bar will decide whether or not to dismiss the grievance or sanction Sebesta. If the bar decided to sanction him, he could receive a punishment as light as a reprimand – essentially a slap on the wrist – or as severe as disbarment.
Anthony’s story has not only been told by him to live audiences around the globe, it has also received renowned interest by the media. His story has been featured on two cover stories of Texas Monthly and in the CBS 48 House Special “Grave Injustice”, which won the prestigious Emmy Award.
Anthony was also an invited guest on the Katie Couric Show in 2013 where he discussed his story and the endowment scholarship he initiated in support of criminal justice reform. He continues to remain a media magnet as an analyst and consultant for issues of wrongful conviction and criminal justice reform for media outlets such as Al Jezeera TV and Huffington Post Live. Anthony makes a concerted effort to bring honor to his experience by using it as a platform that continues to raise awareness and keep the issues surrounding it relevant to the United States and the world so that there will always be a “voice for the voiceless”. As he does so, Anthony’s mission continues to grow in strength and in numbers. There is no turning back from his strong desire to inspire and encourage.