In 1994, Anthony Graves was convicted for Capital Murder in the deaths of six Somerville, Texas residents and sentenced to death by lethal injection. The conviction was overturned in 2006 by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on the grounds that the then District Attorney, Charles Sebesta, withheld a statement given by a co-defendant, Robert Carter, who said that he committed the murders all by himself. The State Bar cleared Sebesta of any wrongdoing in the case. Now the Texas Legislature is considering legislation that would make it a Third Degree Felony for a prosecutor to withhold information favorable to a defendant on trial for an alleged felony offense. Here is Sebesta’s response to that proposed legislation:
I am in total agreement with the provisions of a bill introduced in the Texas Legislature this session that would make it a Third Degree Felony for a Prosecutor to withhold evidence favorable to a defendant on trial for an alleged felony. There is absolutely no justification or excuse for such conduct.
Had a law similar to this been on the books in 2006 when the U.S. Fifth Circuit reversed the death penalty conviction of Anthony Graves, the allegations of Prosecutorial Misconduct would have been ‘automatically’ referred to a grand jury for the purpose of determining whether or not Anthony Graves’ attorneys were told about a co-defendants statement saying that he had committed the murders all by himself. And it would have been resolved, with either an indictment or a no-bill. From a personal perspective, it would have also brought closure to an issue that has become a ‘one-sided political football’ in the media.
The evidence that would have been presented to that grand jury would have been ‘identical’ to that heard by a State Bar Grievance Committee; and the outcome rendered by both the State Bar and the grand jury would have been quite similar. All allegations of Prosecutorial Misconduct on my part were dismissed by the State Bar; and a grand jury, had it had an opportunity to hear the case, would have returned a ‘No-bill!’
Why? Because nowhere in the record does it say Charles Sebesta didn’t provide that information to Graves’ attorneys. Graves’ lead counsel, Calvin Garvie, was asked under oath during an ‘Evidentiary Hearing’ before a Federal Magistrate in 2004 if Mr. Sebesta had told him about Carter’s statement saying that he had committed the murders all by himself. Garvie responded by saying that he didn’t “recall” if he had been told.
That’s what the hearing was all about. It was requested by Graves’ appellate attorneys, and they were the ones asking the questions. On an issue of that magnitude, common sense says he would have remembered one way or another; and the answer would have been either a yes or no. (My testimony under oath at the same hearing was that I personally told Garvie of Carter’s statement; and I later voluntarily submitted to and passed a polygraph administered by the same individual who’s handled a significant amount of testing for the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct).
The very next question was: Would knowledge of Carter’s statement that he had done it all by himself changed anything in the trial? He responded by saying, “No.”
Garvie’s defensive strategy throughout the trial was simple: Three people were involved—-but Graves wasn’t one of them. Since a knife, a gun and a hammer were all used in the murders, the evidence of multiple parties was so overwhelming, he believed that chasing Carter’s “I did it all by myself” revelation was a rabbit trail that would have hurt Graves’ case more than it would have helped.
How do I know this? It’s simple; any attorney not smart enough to figure out his opponent’s trial strategy doesn’t belong in the courtroom.’
We both knew that Carter, in making the statement that he did it all by himself, wasn’t trying to help Graves. He was trying to protect his wife, who was also charged as a co-defendant. And I strongly suspect that Garvie knew of Carter’s statement long before I did, given the underground communications that existed by and between the defendants, their attorneys and some of the defendants’ family members.
But there is something that is a part of the official trial record that the media has ignored, because it would undercut their storyline. It involves a lie detector test that Robert Carter voluntarily took later the same evening after saying that he had committed the murders all by himself. He was asked two questions regarding his wife’s involvement in the murders, and deception was noted in his response to both. Upon being advised of his failure, he broke down and cried while admitting that she had participated in the murders and had been the one with the hammer. (That in itself was an admission that his earlier claim of acting alone wasn’t true!)
The next morning the court was told of both the polygraph exam and the results. And the Court was further advised that the only way Carter would agree to testify was if the State agreed not to ask him any question regarding his wife’s involvement. The Court, after obtaining Garvie’s approval, signed off on the agreement and Carter testified.
When the issue arose during that ‘Evidentiary Hearing,’ Garvie was trapped in a “no-win” situation. Had he said yes, he knew about Carter’s admission and as part of his trial strategy, chose not to raise the issue during the trial, he would have sealed the fate of his former client in the death chamber. And had he said no, he would have opened himself up to possible perjury issues on down the road.
But Calvin Garvie did neither. He chose instead to do what attorneys have being telling their clients to do for decades when there is a question they don’t want to answer: That’s just blame it on faulty memory.
CBS Television, the Houston Chronicle and Texas Monthly, all knew about Garvie’s testimony in Federal Court, because I personally told each of them when they initially interviewed me; and I even provided the latter two with copies of the court transcript of Garvie’s testimony.
But they buried the truth beneath the rubble and created their own version of what they wanted you to believe happened. Never once since that hearing nine years ago have any of the three ever mentioned Garvie’s ‘inability’ to recall what he’d been told about Carter’s statement. It’s always been “Garvie said Sebesta didn’t tell him.” Plagiarism by other media outlets has also played a significant role in perpetuating the fabrication.
A television production entitled CBS-48 Hours: Grave Injustice has aired twice in primetime on CBS-TV, but Garvie’s voice is nowhere to be heard during the hour-long program. Its producer, Richard Schlesinger, attempted to cover for his absence by telling the television audience that Garvie told ‘him’ that Sebesta never advised him of Carter’s admission. But that’s even more proof that Garvie refused to tell Schlesinger what he wanted to hear, because had he done so, you can ‘bet the farm’ the interview would have been taped and televised as part of the production.
That, though, isn’t the only misleading or dishonest utterance offered by CBS. If you want to see at least a dozen more examples, go to www.charlessebesta.net and check out an article entitled: CBS 48-Hours: Grave Injustice—Misleading and Dishonest.
The bottom line is quite simple: Garvie has not told anyone that I didn’t tell him about Robert Carter’s “I did it all by myself” declaration. If you think otherwise, you’ve been misled by those who believe that the truth is relevant only if it is consistent with the publisher’s political agenda!
There is a second thing that would have occurred had this proposed legislation been in effect in 2006. The “Capital Murder” case against Anthony Graves would not have been dismissed. The ‘then’ sitting DA, who didn’t want to re-try the case to begin with, seized the moment by moving to dismiss it and declaring himself an instant hero for freeing Graves. His logic, or lack thereof, which he credits to his own “in-house” investigation, was: Graves is absolutely innocent because Carter said he did it!
Reopening the case for the purpose of determining if Prosecutorial Misconduct had in fact occurred, would have also allowed a grand jury to review other evidence contained in the trial record; and it would have provided insight into opinions upholding the conviction rendered earlier by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
Unfortunately, that oversight never materialized because the case never made it back to a grand jury. Credit, however, does go to District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett, who didn’t buy into the “absolute innocence” charade and refused to sign an order to that effect, thereby denying Graves’ attempt to reap a monetary windfall from the State of Texas. The same also goes for an Attorney General’s office that refused to roll over and play dead.
But the ‘anti-death penalty’ coalition didn’t stop there. Led by a State Senator from Harris County, they turned to the Governor, who at the time was seeking the Republican nomination for President. And it’s that Governor who is reported to have told his staff, “Just get him (Graves) his money!”
And that is exactly what a misinformed and ‘politically correct’ Legislature did. They changed the law so that it no longer requires the District Judge hearing the case to make an affirmative finding of “absolute innocence.” As a result, Anthony Graves walked away with $1,457,828.79 of your tax dollars.
Even more disturbing, though, is the fact that this ill-fated legislation has opened the State’s vaults to just about any defendant who claims to have been wrongfully convicted, because the “checks and balances” that once prevented raids of this type on the State Treasury have been eliminated.
The Black community often says that they don’t get a ‘fair shake’ in our courts; and in this case they are right. The six victims: a 46-year old grandmother, her 16-year old daughter and four grandchildren between the ages of four and nine—all black—will forever be denied the justice they deserve because it was more important for a very left-leaning, liberal media to sacrifice the lives of these victims in exchange for an opportunity to use this case as justification for abolishing the death penalty!
Charles Sebesta served as District Attorney for the 21st Judicial District of Texas from 1975-2000