Convicted felon Anthony Graves was exonerated for the 1992 murder of a family of six when his codefendant, Robert Earl Carter, proclaimed Graves’ innocence shortly before he was executed in 2001. Years later, a federal appeals court has listened to Carter, overturning Graves’ conviction in October 2010 and freeing the now 45-year-old, who has been wrongly imprisoned in Texas for 18 years.
Under Texas law, anyone falsely imprisoned is due to receive $80,000 per year for each year they spent behind bars. In Graves’ case, that means he should be receiving more than $1.4 million. Alas, he’s not. He’s receiving nothing because of a clerical error precipitated by a lazy prosecutor.
Here’s how that happened: After a wrongly imprisoned convict is released in Texas, in order to make them eligible for compensation, prosecutors dropping the charges must include the term “actual innocence” in their order of release. Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham didn’t include those words in his October 2010 order, but he could have asked a judge to insert them after the fact. The only caveat was that he needed to do that within 15 days of the initial order. Parham didn’t do that, even going so far as to ignore Graves’ lawyers' phone calls. And now, according to state law, Graves is set to receive nothing. All because of two little words.
“Once they put the two magic words in there, that would have solved the problem,” says Graves’ attorney, Jimmy Phillips Jr.
But Graves himself doesn’t blame Parham. He blames the judge, Reva Towslee-Corbett.
“The judge showed blatant bias from the beginning, and I think Parham knew he wouldn't get her to sign the order,” said Graves. “It's hard for me to blame Bill Parham. But I just wish he had gone all the way to make sure I received compensation for this injustice.”
Thankfully, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said he’s going to do everything within his power to make sure Graves receives the compensation he is due. What that will involve exactly remains to be seen, but Perry has been quite vocal about his support for Graves’ case.
At a press conference in Houston on Tuesday, Perry said he would do all he could to "get this individual the appropriate reimbursement for years that he has spent incarcerated for something that he did not do.” Later, a spokesperson for his office, Lucy Nashed, reiterated his dedication to the cause. "We understand that Anthony Graves is innocent,” she said, “and have been in contact with his lawyers, who are pursuing every available option to ensure that he is granted the restitution he deserves.”
As for Graves, we’re sure he’s quite happy to be back home with his family, regardless of whether he receives compensation. But it’s about time the justice system actually worked for him for once.
Image: Courtesy of Anthony Graves