Graves’ Life After Death Row: a book review

On August 18, 1992, in Somerville, Texas, a man named Robert Carter entered a trailer home and killed 6 people in cold blood, including his son. Then he set the trailer on fire to hide the evidence. 5 days later, at the funeral, he was noticed with burns and bandages on his hands. He was picked up by the police and because of the physical evidence(the burns) and inconsistencies of his story, they questioned him, he confessed and they charged him with murder. During the interrogation, he named Anthony Graves as his accomplice.

978-080706252-4Graves was the second cousin of Carter’s wife, but the two men didn’t know each other.  Despite no physical evidence tying him to the crime and an alibi, Graves was charged, tried and convicted. Graves would spend 18 years in jail, 12 of them on death row, before he was exonerated and went home a free man. Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Confinement and 12 years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul is Graves story, in his own words of how he got where he was and how he was able to hold out hope against hope that Justice would prevail.

When Graves was first arrested, he naively assumed, ‘the truth would set him free.’ Unfortunately, the Rangers and prosecutor working on his case didn’t seem to be on a mission to uncover the truth or check into Graves’s story. They sought instead to look for ways to trap him, get a confession, or find incriminating evidence. Thinking that he was helping himself, Graves went into interrogations and before a grand jury without a lawyer, assuming that if he was innocent, he didn’t really need a lawyer to protect him.  Unfortunately, a couple of careless answers were used to try to discredit his testimony at trial. When he was in his early 20s, Graves was arrested on a Marijuana possession charge but he was convinced by his lawyer at the time, to accept the prosecutors’ plea bargain (a guilty plea for dealing cocaine, in exchange for 18 months probation). The same prosecutor, Charles Sebesta was now trying to prosecute Graves for murder.

Then he did get a lawyer. A family friend arranged for him to have one of the best trial lawyers in Texas, Dick DeGuerin. DeGuerin believed in Graves’s innocence. But his fee was steep, and with no means for Graves or his family to pay him, DeGuerin abandoned Graves’s case shortly after he was indicted. The lawyer that took Graves to trial, Calvin Garvin, was sincere but inexperienced.

Later, it was uncovered that Sebesta, the prosecutor, suppressed exculpatory evidence in Graves’s trial (e.g. Carter had said to Sebesta the day before that Graves was not an accomplice and Sebesta pressured him to testify anyway without informing the defense), and intimidated Graves’s alibi witness with a threat that he would charge her for murder too. When a special prosecutor reviewed Graves case (18 years later), she recommended the charges be dropped. And a couple of years after that, Sebesta was disbarred for ethics violations relating to Graves case.

Infinite Hope recounts the story of Graves arrest, trial, sentence, eventual exoneration and his current activism. Graves was buoyed through the hard times by family and friendships near and far—pen pals and visitors, who followed his case—and faith in a ‘God who was good all the time.’

This is a hopeful story and it is a sad story. It is hopeful because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bent towards justice, even in a Texas capital case. It is a sad story because I want to believe that criminal investigators and DAs care more about justice than they do about getting a conviction. While the circumstances of Graves’s case are certainly unique and represent an egregious miscarriage of justice, it is unfortunate justice is not as fair and blind as we would like to think. Confessions get coerced, and people get railroaded by the system (often people of color).

This book is a personal story. There are other books deal with prison reform and capital punishment from an ideological or sociological perspective. Graves says at one point that he hadn’t really thought through his positions on the death penalty until he found himself on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. That made the issue far less abstract. I give this book four stars.

Notice of material connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via librarything.com. In exchange for my honest review.

 

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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