In the early morning hours of August 18, 1992, six Somerville, Texas residents—including four children under the age of eight—were brutally murdered. One was shot; two were ‘bludgeon’ with a hammer and all six were ‘stabbed’ multiple times. Gasoline was then poured over their bodies and they, along with the house they were in, were set ablaze.
Three Texas Rangers were assigned to the case and a fourth provided assistance.
When Robert Carter, the father of one of the victims appeared at the funeral for the six with multiple burns and bandages about his arms and face, he immediately became a ‘person of interest.’
Later that afternoon, at the request of the Rangers, Carter met with them at the DPS offices in Brenham, Texas. His story of how and when he received the burns simply did not add up and he was asked if he would submit to a polygraph examination. He agreed and was taken to DPS Headquarters in Houston for the test. He failed.
After being advised of his failure, he agreed to give the Rangers a statement. He acknowledged his presences and implicated Anthony Graves and a third subject that he said he only knew as ‘Red.’
It didn’t take the Rangers very long to figure out that the subject Carter had referred to as ‘Red,’ was in fact Carter’s wife, Theresa or ‘Cookie’ as she was often called. She had a burn on her arm, which she attributed to a curling iron.
There were also several conversations between Carter and Graves, while the two were being held in cells directly across from each other in the ‘old’ Burleson County Jail, that were overheard on the jail intercom system in the jail office. One of them was, “We have to protect Cookie (Theresa) at all cost.”
All three—Carter, his wife Theresa and Graves—personally appeared before a Burleson County Grand Jury. Carter attempted to recant his earlier statement by saying that neither he, nor Graves or ‘Red’ did it. His basic line before the Grand Jury was that the Rangers wanted a story and he made one up. Carter and Graves were indicted for ‘Capital Murder,’ as was Theresa a short time later.
Carter was tried in Bastrop, Texas in January-February 1994; convicted; and sentenced to death.
About two months after the conclusion of the trial, I received a call from Walter Prentice, Carter’s court-appointed appellate attorney. He was inquiring about the possibility of some type of deal, if Carter would agree to testify against Anthony Graves in Graves’ upcoming trial.
Basically, my response was, “We don’t have much to offer and before I am even willing to discuss it, Carter is going to have to come clean and tell us everything—including his wife’s role in the murders.”
On July 31, 1994, Texas Ranger Ray Coffman and Assistant District Attorney Bill Torrey went to Livingston, Texas where Carter was incarcerated on Death Row and took a statement from him. It provided more details—including his role in the murders—and it was consistent with the physical evidence; but he again refused to implicate his wife, Theresa. He remained steadfast behind his earlier statement that Graves and ‘Red’ were with him that night.
Over the next few weeks, I visited with Walter Prentice by phone on a couple of occasions, but nothing was worked out because of Carter’s refusal to give up Theresa. Had he agreed to do so and testify against ‘both’ Graves and Theresa, I was willing to allow him to enter a plea to life, ‘should’ his case be reversed for any reason. At that point, both Prentice and I agreed we would try to work it out when Carter was brought to Angleton, Texas as a potential witness in the Graves case.
The night before Carter was ‘tentatively’ scheduled to testify in the Graves’ trial, he was picked up and brought to the Sheriff’s courthouse annex in Angleton by the Rangers. It would be my first opportunity to personally interview him. His attorney, Walter Prentice, was present during the interview.
I have known Robert Carter’s family for at least 40 years. His father worked for Burleson County and both Robert and his brother were members of State Championship basketball teams at Snook High School, the same school I had graduated from many years earlier.
After asking him how he was doing and if his ‘dad’ or other family members had been to see him, Carter blurted out, “Mr. Sebesta, I did it all it all by myself.”
I looked him squarely in the eyes and said, “Robert, you know and I know that you didn’t do it all by yourself. There were three weapons: a knife, a gun and a hammer.”
He persisted for a few minutes and finally I explained to him, in terms that he could understand, that I was tired of playing games.
Paraphrasing for brevity, here is what he then told me:
He said that he had had a relationship with Lisa Davis, prior to his marriage to Theresa and he had fathered Jason Davis, the four year old who was killed that night.
Lisa Davis wanted him to leave Theresa and marry her, so she used the “child support” issue as a means of pressuring him.
Carter said the night everything occurred, he thought Lisa Davis would be at home since she was not scheduled to work that evening at the Brenham State School. And he said that he, Graves and ‘Red’ decided to go to Somerville and straighten things out. When they arrived, Carter said that he got out of the vehicle and went up to the door. He could see Bobbie Davis—Lisa’s mother—-through the window asleep in her recliner in front of the TV.
When Bobbie Davis opened the door, he went in and she told him that Lisa had switched shifts with someone and wasn’t at home. Then as soon as Carter raised the ‘child support’ issue, the conversation quickly evolved into a shouting match.
Upon returning to the vehicle, Carter was asked by Graves and ‘Red’ about what transpired and he told them that she had gotten ‘smart’ with him. Where upon Graves and ‘Red’ immediately said, let’s go take care of things.
Graves, on probation at the time, was not exactly a disinterested party. Both his mother and Bobbie Davis worked at the Brenham State School and he thought Bobbie, because of an ‘alleged’ personal relationship with a ‘supervisor,’ had received a promotion that his mother should have received.
Carter said that both Graves and ‘Red’ stormed into the house and in so many words, “all hell broke loose.” Graves started ‘stabbing’ Bobbie with his knife and ‘Red’ was hitting her over the head with a hammer. The commotion awoke 16 year old, Nicole Davis and when she emerged from the bedroom and recognized him, he said he had no choice but to shoot and kill her with the .22 caliber pistol he was carrying. The FBI Lab in Washington, D.C. confirmed that the bullets removed from the body of Nicole matched those found in a box in Carter’s bedroom at his home.
Carter said that he immediately went outside and threw up. When he returned he said Graves was going from room to room, killing the children. He then said he returned to his vehicle; removed a can of gasoline from the trunk; took it back inside the house and started pouring gasoline over the bodies.
He said that when Graves lit it, it went “swoosh” and the flames jumped over to him, burning his hands and face. He apparently had gotten some gasoline on his hands and rubbed his face.
About that point, I interrupted him and said something to the effect of, what you’re telling me is what you told Bill Torrey and Ranger Coffman back in July. I want to know who ‘Red’ is. His response was the same as it always had been: “Some dude from Elgin.” He said that he only knew him as ‘Red,’ and he couldn’t tell us anything else about him.
For the next two hours or so, the conversation centered around the ‘true’ identity of ‘Red.’ He remained adamant that Theresa was not involved and he continued to say that he, Graves and ‘Red’ were the ones who had committed the crime.
Finally around 9:00 or 9:30 that evening, I think it was Bill Torrey who said, “Robert (Carter) will you take a polygraph regarding Theresa’s involvement?” After visiting with his attorney, he agreed.
A polygraph examiner from the Brazoria County Sheriff’s office was called and he and Torrey drafted the two questions that Carter would be asked pertaining to his wife’s involvement in the murders.
Carter flunked the test and after being advised of his failure, he finally broke down and cried as he acknowledged that the person he had been referring to as ‘Red,’ was actually his wife, Theresa. He also acknowledged that Theresa was the one who had the hammer and he agreed to testify accordingly the next morning.
Realizing that he could easily change his mind over night, I instructed the Rangers to have him at the courthouse early the next morning.
As it turned out, my suspicions were correct. When they brought him the next morning his first words were, “I can’t give her up.” At this point, we were at an impasse.
His brother came in and talked to him, ‘one-on-one.’ The judge was sending the bailiff back every few minutes to tell us the jury was ready, and I was running in and out each time asking the Court to give us a few more minutes. At some point that morning, I ran into Calvin Garvey, Graves’ lead counsel, in the hallway and he could see the frustration on my face. I said to Calvin, “Your not going to believe this but now Carter is saying he did it all by himself.” Calvin laughed and said, “What’s that, his eighth or ninth story?”
Carter’s brother’s parting words that morning were something to the effect of “You’ve already caused enough hurt, it’s time you did something right.”
With time literally running out, I asked Carter if he would agree to testify as to what happened as long as we did not ask any questions about his wife’s involvement in the case and he said yes. I also explained that the plea agreement previously discussed was no longer on the table and all I would do was promise that I would not use his testimony in the Graves’ case against him, should his case be reversed for any reason. In effect, Carter received nothing for his testimony.
We went directly to the courtroom and I told the Court on the record that: Carter had taken a polygraph the previous evening regarding his wife, Theresa’s involvement in the case; that he had failed it; and he had agreed to testify as long as we did not ask any questions about her (Theresa’s) involvement.
The Court told Graves’ Defense Attorneys that my agreement with Carter was not binding on them, but they chose ‘not’ to ask Carter any questions pertaining to Theresa’s involvement. This was consistent with my personal observations regarding their trial strategy, which was: Multiple parties were involved; Graves was not one of them; and we have to protect Theresa (Cookie) at all cost.
Carter was a prison guard at one of the two Pack Units in Navasota, Texas. He worked a night shift and there was evidence to indicate that Graves and Carter’s wife’s relationship may have exceeded that of just being cousins, which explains why Graves was so intent on protecting Theresa Carter.
The following morning when I ran into Calvin Garvey in the hallway and said, “Your not going to believe this, but now Carter’s saying that he did it all by himself,” I didn’t tell him because I thought it was ‘exculpatory’ or evidence that could be considered favorable to the defendant. It was a way of expressing my frustration.
Calvin and I talked throughout the trial, the same way a ‘base runner’ talks to the first baseman during a baseball game. We joked on more than one occasion about the lack of ‘credibility’ of several of the witnesses (on both sides), including that of Carter.
Over the years, Calvin and I have sat across the table from each other in the courtroom on numerous occasions and I respect him professionally and like him as a person. What is interesting is that Calvin never said that I didn’t tell him what Carter said; He told the Court, “I don’t recall him (Sebesta) telling me.”
And it is quite possible that he doesn’t remember, considering the ‘admission’ that he made while testifying under oath before a Federal Magistrate in Galveston, Texas on September 28, 2004. That ‘admission’ puts this whole issue in its proper prospective and explains why ‘no one’ at the time—including the State, the Defense or Law Enforcement—considered Carter’s utterance that “I did it all by myself,” significant, material or relevant.
During that “Evidentiary Hearing,” Garvey was asked if having knowledge of Carter’s statement that “I did it all by myself” would have changed anything in the trial? After a lengthy pause, Garvey’s response was: “No.”
Judge Froeschner in his findings said that Carter’s statement (that he did it all by himself) neither matched the medical evidence or the undisputed testimony of Texas Ranger Ray Coffman that at least three people were involved; and he concluded by saying, “Carter’s undisclosed statements do not meet the materiality standard when considered alone or in combination (with other evidence).
Judge Kent, the Federal District Judge who made the recommendations to the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, found that the statement, “I did it all by myself,” was ‘not’ relevant and he noted that ‘all’ of the evidence presented by both sides at trial was predicated on ‘multiple’ parties.
This case was submitted to the Fifth Circuit for oral arguments on Thursday, December 8, 2005. Three days earlier, on Monday, December 5th, the Houston Chronicle ran a ‘major’ story on the case saying that “………an affidavit by prominent Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin (had) surfaced showing that there may be a witness who can testify that Graves was with his family while the slayings he was convicted of were taking place.”
The Chronicle article said, “DeGuerin signed an affidavit last month (November 2005) stating that a Brenham woman was prepared to testify at Graves’ trial that she was speaking with Graves on the phone about the time of the murders.”
The Chronicle then quoted DeGuerin as saying that “he spoke with Kay Vest, a dormitory supervisor at Blinn College in Brenham.” DeGuerin says he called Vest after Graves was arrested in August 1992, but Vest denies that.
DeGuerin is further quoted as saying, “He (Graves) was not there.”
Obviously DeGuerin, who represented Graves at the initial bond hearing in September 1992 was aware of what he told the Houston Chronicle, at the time of that hearing in 1992, yet the State was never advised of the ‘revelation’ and apparently it was never passed on to “successor” defense counsel since Kay Vest was never called as a witness during Graves’ 1994 trial.
Was DeGuerin lying or was he simply ‘derelict’ in his ethical responsibilities to pass this information on to his ‘successor’ defense counsel? Or was he simply lending his name and reputation to a ‘charade’ being orchestrated by the Houston Chronicle and its management’s ‘collateral’ attack on the death penalty?
Even more perplexing is the fact the Graves’ girlfriend Yolanda Mathis and his brother have both testified under oath several times at various hearings that Graves and Mathis watched a movie on TV that evening and went to bed long before the murders occurred.
But there is another possibility. Was this an attempt by DeGuerin and the Chronicle to ‘sway’ the thought process of the three Texas Judges on the Fifth Circuit assigned to hear oral argument three days later?
Judges read newspapers too, and when one of the state’s leading newspapers reports that a “high profile” attorney like Dick DeGuerin says he has given an affidavit containing information that he says will prove someone on “death row” innocent, it’s obviously something that can’t be taken lightly.
It’s been over sixteen months since DeGuerin’s disclosure to the Houston Chronicle and no one has ever seen the affidavit. Hearsay evidence is admissible at a bond hearing, yet no mention of the affidavit or Kay Vest was ever made at Graves’ bond hearing earlier this year.
DeGuerin says he signed the affidavit at the request of students at the University of St. Thomas working with the Project Innocent Network. Nicole Casarez, a current member of Graves’ defense team is in charge of that group, so if it exists, she obviously had access to it.
What we do know though, is that the Fifth Circuit elected not to adopt the findings of Judge Froschner and the recommendations of Judge Kent, choosing instead to embrace the arguments contained in the brief filed by the defense and reverse the Jury’s findings.
When they issued their opinion, saying that I had ‘intentionally’ withheld Carter’s statement that “I did it all by myself,” from Graves’ attorneys and that I had ‘intentionally’ tried to confuse Graves’ attorneys, I immediately took exception to their findings and ‘publicly’ announced ‘in advance’ to the ‘media’ that I would voluntarily take a “lie-detector” test or ‘polygraph’ examination regarding same.
I wanted an examiner with no direct connection to law enforcement and someone I’d never met from outside the area where I live. I contacted the State Board of Polygraph Operators in Austin and asked for the name of a ‘polygraph’ operator in the Austin area that met those qualifications. The first name on their ‘alphabetical’ list in the Austin area meeting those qualifications was Michael F. Burton in Pflugerville, Texas. He was contacted and agreed to administer the test for $400.00, which I personally paid. Among the questions asked:
Was Carter’s statement that “he did it all by himself” conveyed to Calvin Garvey prior to Carter’s testifying? Answer “Yes.”
EXAMINER’S ANALYSIS: analytical review of the polygrams resulting from this examination failed to reveal any deceptive criteria to the relevant questions. In the opinion of this examiner, you have been completely truthful.
At some point prior to his scheduled execution Carter, realizing that his days were numbered and fearful that Graves might turn on Theresa in exchange for a ‘deal’ for life, re-embraced the “I did it all myself” story and gave a deposition about two weeks before he was executed. It was during this deposition that Carter said that he told me that he did it all by himself the night before he testified in the Graves case. I had completely forgotten about it, but did recall that it occurred.
I have since never denied that he told me and have always acknowledged the fact whenever asked. I could have lied and it would have been my word against that of a ‘convicted’ killer, but I chose instead to tell the truth.
Obviously, placing Carter’s utterance that “I did it all by myself” on the record would have been a better option, but the law does not require that something ‘exculpatory’ be placed on the record. It only says that I must inform ‘opposing’ counsel and in this case even though ‘counsel’ doesn’t recall it occurring, he was in fact told.
Throughout this whole ordeal, the ‘media’ has equated Carter’s statement that “I did it all by myself,” with—–Carter told prosecutors, “Graves was innocent” and Graves wasn’t there”—-and the media has ‘conveniently’ continued to report that prosecutors ‘intentionally’ withheld each of these three statements from Graves’ Defense Attorneys. This simply isn’t true!
Carter, while testifying before a Burleson County Grand Jury in August 1992, did in fact tell the Grand Jurors that: “Graves is innocent” and “Graves wasn’t there.” And shortly thereafter, the Court ordered that Graves’ attorneys be provided with a complete copy Carter’s Grand Jury Testimony—which included both of those statements.
Unfortunately though, a vast majority of the stories written about Carter’s statements have mistakenly reported that Carter said “Graves was innocent,” or “Graves wasn’t there” and the State failed to convey this information to Graves’ attorneys.
The writer covering the story for the Chronicle never seemed to understand, because over an eighteen-month period, I tried to ‘correct’ him on six or seven occasions—either by phone or e-mail—to no avail.
So distressed over the ‘focus’ of his coverage of the case that I called him this past summer and set up a meeting with him in his office in the Chronicle Building in Houston. He was told: I’m here to answer ‘any’ questions that you have about the case. Nothing is ‘off-limits.’
For two hours and fifty minutes, I did just that—answering ‘everything’ he asked. What I told him is what you’re reading in this article; yet, very little of it has ever appeared in print in the Chronicle.
As to the other issue, we were convinced going into the interview with Carter that evening that Carter, Graves and Theresa were the perpetrators of the crime; and we were comfortable with the evidence that we had on Graves. I was looking ahead, past his trial, seeking to ‘firm-up’ the evidence on Theresa, so we could try her next.
The moment Carter said, “I did it all by myself,” I didn’t even have to think—because I didn’t believe him. I’d seen too much; heard too much; and in my mind, knew it wasn’t the truth. And I knew Carter knew it wasn’t the truth.
I recognized it as just another of Carter’s futile attempts to display his ‘manipulative’ skills. He knew that we wanted Theresa and I think he thought that if he told us “I did it all by myself,” we would back off.
When I later questioned Coffman (and Carter), I knew that Carter had been “all over the map” in his nine or ten different ‘versions’ of what happened, but there was something about ‘each’ one of those stories that was significant.
All of Carter’s statements or utterances could be divided into two categories: those where Carter said that Graves wasn’t involved at ‘all’ and those where he said Graves was one of the ‘three’ perpetrators. There was a very significant, ‘third’ category that never came into play and it would have involved statements Carter gave where he said someone ‘other’ than Graves was involved.
In the first category, Carter had told the Grand Jury: “Graves is innocent;” and “Graves wasn’t there.” The utterance that “I did it all by myself,” would have also fallen into that category. In every other statement, Carter pointed a finger at someone and he always named Graves as being one of the three. He never said: It was Jones, Red and me or it was Smith, Red and me.
With one exception, it was always Graves, Red and me and that exception occurred when, after failing the polygraph, he said it was Graves, Theresa and me. But the ‘key’ was, he ‘always’ named Graves.
It’s a point I wanted to convey to the jury and I sought to do it by asking Ranger Coffman (and Carter) “to confirm that all of Carter’s statements, except the grand jury testimony, implicated Graves.
The question was ‘framed’ the way it was to make it clear that anytime Carter named someone as a co-defendant, Graves was ‘always’ in the mix. There was no attempt on my part to intentionally mislead anyone or illicit answers that weren’t true. Given the events that had occurred in the previous 24 hours and the way everything unfolded, Carter’s utterance that “I did it all myself” wasn’t even on the ‘radar screen.’
I spent all or part of nineteen weeks in 1994, trying three capital murder cases. Graves’ trial was the last of the three and it began in mid-September that year and it wasn’t over until the first week of November. The Trial Record exceeded 6,000 pages. It’s easy to take a single ‘question’ or sentence; put it under a microscope; and draw a conclusion from it that is entirely “out in left field,” if you don’t understand the ‘big picture.’ And the fact that it’s been twelve and a half years since the case was tried has made it even more difficult to retrace our footsteps.
The most unfortunate aspect of this whole ‘episode,’ is that this case is no longer about whether or not Graves is guilty of committing the crimes he is charged with having committed. It’s all about the ‘financial rewards’ four or five attorneys stand to ‘reap’ if they are successful in keeping Graves from ever being retried. And
convincing the Court to dismiss the charges against Graves might mean a potential recovery from the ‘taxpayers’ in the millions.
Why do you think Nicole Casarez told the Houston Chronicle,that “I was the most ‘vial’ person she’s ever met,” (and they printed it)? Or why Robert Bennett, another member of Graves stable of attorneys, said (among other things) that, “I was the most unethical attorney he’s ever known?”
It’s all a part of an all-out ‘media-blitz,’ to convince the public that Graves has been “railroaded” and I’m the ‘villain.’
Last summer I received a call from Richard C. Nuffer. ‘Rick,’ as his friends call him, was a ‘highly’ respected criminal defense lawyer in Brenham prior to giving up his law practice to attend the seminary. Today he is a Lutheran Minister and educator living in Ohio. He said that he had just received a call from ‘some’ woman in Houston named Nicole Casarez. He said that she had told him how ‘sorry’ I was and she wanted to know anything he knew ‘bad’ about me.
‘Rick’ is just one of several who have called to tell me that Casarez had called them looking for ‘dirt.’
This time last year, Nicole Casarez wasn’t even practicing law. She was a journalism teacher at St. Thomas in Houston. Why did she ask the State Bar to reinstate her law license? Was it just so she too, could participate in the ‘projected’ windfall?
With one exception, none of the attorneys currently representing Graves have ever tried a ‘Capital Murder Case’ and most of them aren’t even ‘criminal’ attorneys. They are ‘civil’ attorneys who make their living suing Governmental Identities and Public Servants. And all too often, attorneys in these type cases rely on ‘media feeding frenzies’ to build their cases.
Anthony Graves is entitled to a fair trial and the victims and their families deserve justice. But for both of these things to happen, this case is going to have to be moved from Burleson County to a location outside the Houston Chronicle’s ‘general’ circulation area.
After Bennett received a copy of the above response and realized that the Grievance Committee would most likely ‘dismiss’ the complaint without a formal hearing, he procured the services of an ‘expert witness’ by the name of Ms. Lillian Hardwick, who just happened to be the Chairperson of the State Bar of Texas Committee on Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct. Ms. Lillian Hardwick provided the Bar’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel with a 29 page ‘legal brief’ on the reasons why she thought the matter should be ‘litigated’ and not be ‘dismissed’ without a formal hearing. (Of course there are ‘ethical’ questions surrounding her involvement, but that’s another issue).
Then using his law firms ‘blog,’ Bennett released a list of ‘his’ own personal version of America’s ‘Top Ten’ most unethical prosecutors and listed me as ‘number seven.’
But he didn’t stop there. He convinced the Houston Press to run a ‘front page’ story on his pronouncement of America’s ‘Top Ten’ most Unethical Prosecutors—highlighting ‘his’ reasons for my selection as being ‘number seven’ on his list.
But his ‘lobbying’ was to no avail. Shortly thereafter, the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas determined that said ‘Complaint’ lacked the ‘requisite’ merit to proceed with a ‘formal hearing’ and it was presented to a State Bar Summary Disposition Panel. On August 16, 2007, all parties were notified by letter of the Panel’s findings as follows:
“The Summary Disposition Panel for the District Grievance Committee has determined that the above referenced Complaint should be dismissed. The Complainant cannot appeal this determination of the Summary Disposition Panel. Accordingly, our file on this matter has been closed and this office will take no further action.”
I waived ‘confidentially’ and copies of my response to the State Bar were provided to local and regional media outlets, but its content has been ‘largely’ ignored.
The mistake I made was not putting the statement on the record, but the law only says that the Defense must be advised of any evidence that might be considered favorable to the Defendant—and that was done.
Had I withheld evidence in the Graves Trial, ‘sanctions’ would and should have been appropriate.’ But that did not happen and the State Bar of Texas obviously agreed with their dismissal of the grievance!