By Andrew Z. Giacalone
The murders, by all accounts, were horrific.
Bobbie Davis, her 16 year-old daughter and four grandchildren had been stabbed, shot and bludgeoned with a hammer and their house doused with gasoline and set on fire.
But the sentiments that engulfed Somerville, Texas, in the summer of 1992 quickly turned from horror to vengeance. It was a crime that could have only been committed by a “cold-blooded killer,” then-Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta
at the time. Somerville Mayor Tanya Roush
up the community’s anger over the killings telling the press that many wanted to “bring back the hangin’ tree, and save the taxpayers’ money.”
The dragnet that descended on the town eventually scooped up
Robert Earl Carter
, father to one of the murdered children and the state’s main suspect who, under pressure by investigating officers, admitted to the murders and implicated Carter’s wife and her cousin, 26-year-old Anthony Graves. Carter later told the prosecution that Graves had no involvement in the murders. But District Attorney Sebesta convinced him that he would agree to drop the indictment against Carter’s wife if Carter would testify against Graves. Carter obliged. Both Carter and Graves were eventually convicted and sentenced to death. The prosecution never disclosed to Graves’ lawyers that Carter had on multiple occasions claimed that Graves wasn’t involved in the crime.
Prior to his execution in 2000, Carter confirmed Graves’ innocence in a sworn statement. For his part, Graves spent 18 years in prison, 12 of which on death row, before being eventually exonerated in 2010 with the help of the attorney Nicole Casarez and the help of her journalism students at the University of St. Thomas.
The injustice of the justice system
Twenty-one years after his wrongful conviction and death sentence, Anthony Graves, now 49 years-old, has decided to devote his life to pursuing criminal justice reform in order to ensure that such travesties no longer occur.
“I use my story to educate people,” Graves told
Voice of America
in an interview released yesterday. “But more importantly, keep it on people’s minds about the injustice that is going on in our criminal justice system.”
The Texas man now says he has narrowed in on the biggest problem facing the United States criminal justice system: inequality.
Lower income people, explains Graves, are unable to afford well-equipped defense attorneys and are often pressured by police and prosecutors into accepting a plea bargain for a lower sentence rather than face numerous years in prison.
The guilty plea problem, in fact, has even led to numerous wrongful convictions.
According to the Innocence Project, 31 of the 333 people who have been exonerated by DNA evidence entered guilty pleas for crimes they did not commit.
Vowing to use his own experience to illustrate what he describes as the “injustice of the justice system,” Anthony Graves is now calling on citizens across the country to raise their voices and use their democratic power to implement meaningful criminal justice reform.
“We can do it,” he added. “We have the power to do it.”
Read the full
Voice of America
interview with Anthony Graves