What Do Exonerations Tell Us About The Death Penalty And The Criminal Justice System? | KERA News

http://keranews.org/post/what-do-exonerations-tell-us-about-death-penalty-and-criminal-justice-systemPublic radio stations from across the state collaborated on this series looking at the death penalty in Texas – its history, how it’s changed, whom it affects and its future.

Texas executed Terry Edwards on Thursday evening, making him the second man to be put to death by the state this year. In Texas, more than 240 people sit on death row awaiting execution. Long the leading executioner in the U.S., the Lone Star State put to death fewer people last year than it has in two decades.

Death row is reserved for criminals who commit the most serious crimes, but Anthony Graves says not everyone who is sentenced to death is guilty. He should know. He spent almost two decades incarcerated after he was wrongfully convicted of murder. Most of those years were on death row, awaiting execution.

Graves was released from prison in 2010, after spending 18.5 years behind bars for a murder that he didn’t commit.

“I always tell people don’t forget the half, that was six more months,” he said.

In 1992, Graves was wrongfully convicted as an accomplice to murder in the tiny town of Somerville, Texas. The murderer told police Graves helped him kill six people and burn down their house. The murderer later recanted, but the prosecutor proceeded to charge Graves, who was convicted and sentenced to death by the state of Texas. Graves said each day of his existence death row was a grueling replay of the one before it.

“There was no life there,” Graves said. “It was just waking up every day behind a 6-by-9 cage, no television, no nothing, just waiting to be executed.”

Graves spent most of his time almost completely isolated. His only physical contact with other humans came when guards put on and took off his shackles to take him, alone, to the caged-off outdoor recreation area, or to the shower. One day, a decade or so into his sentence, Graves was shackled and taken to the prison warden’s office. He told Graves that his execution was officially scheduled.

“It was just mind boggling to me that this man was sitting across from me telling me that they’re going to kill me for something I know absolutely nothing about. And how am I supposed to process this and then continue to carry on?” Graves recalls.

That execution was postponed, and Graves saw his execution scheduled and postponed again before his conviction was finally overturned. Four years later, Anthony Graves was exonerated and released. The prosecutor who put him in prison was later disbarred.

Now, Graves runs a foundation that re-examines questionable convictions and sentences, and sits on the board of the independent Houston crime lab that processes crime scene evidence. He’s writing a book about his experience – he plans to call it “Infinite Hope” – and he has become an advocate for criminal justice reforms. These days, Anthony Graves says he has a good life. He lives in a large house on a tree-lined street in a nice neighborhood in Houston, with his dog named Papi.

“He is a Chihuahua mixed with a pit [bull] – don’t ask me how that happened,” Graves said, laughing. “I saw him on ‘doggy oodles,’ and I felt like I need to rescue him.”

Graves’ is far from an isolated case, says Innocence Project of Texas director Mike Ware, and his case exposes some of the problems that lead to wrongful convictions.

“What my experience has taught me is that there are many undetected wrongful convictions in Texas prisons,” Ware said. “And I know that because I know when we look for them we find them.”

More than 300 people have been exonerated in Texas since 1989. Together, they spent more than 1,700 years behind bars. Most exonerees weren’t on death row, but 13 of them – including Anthony Graves – were.

Exonerations have skyrocketed in recent years. Part of that is science: more use of DNA evidence, and changes in accepted forensics science on arson, bite marks and other areas of expertise. Many prosecutors’ offices have formed unites that re-examine potential wrongful conviction cases. The Innocence Project and groups like it also look into questionable cases. Read the full article here…