Saturday 29 January 2011

Graves ex-prosecutor underscores death-penalty distrust

It’s natural to be defensive when one’s professional stature and integrity are on the line. A humiliating reversal sometimes brings out the worst in people, as appears to be the case for Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County district attorney who prosecuted the highly flawed murder case of Anthony Graves.
Sebesta won a conviction that sent Graves to death row as an accomplice to the hideous murders of six in a Somerville house in 1992. Graves spent 18 years in prison, always maintaining his innocence, while Sebesta unceasingly insisted that Graves was guilty and had to die.
Graves today is a free man after receiving exoneration in October. Sebesta, meanwhile, has taken out an ad in the Burleson County Tribune and created a website to restate his claims of Graves’ guilt. His arguments are stunningly incoherent; they betray the desperation of a man who simply cannot bring himself to admit: I was wrong.
Sebesta manipulated evidence, withheld exculpatory statements from the defense, and elicited false testimony, according to a 2006 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision. The court excoriated Sebesta for his behavior. But Sebesta, a retired Army Reserve colonel, remains insistent that he — not Graves — is the one suffering injustice.
The extent of Sebesta’s obsession is apparent in the ranting on his website, none of which points to any evidence of Graves’ guilt.
Robert Earl Carter, who was executed for the murder in 2000, blurted out Graves’ name during a confession after his 1992 arrest. But he repeatedly recanted before Sebesta and other Burleson County officials, who withheld this crucial information from Graves’ attorneys. Before his execution, Carter stated, “Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him in court.”
It took Kelly Siegler of Houston, brought in as special prosecutor last year to take over the retrial of Graves, to expose all this. She’s no softie, having won 19 death-row convictions. After examining all the evidence against Graves, she determined there was nothing — nothing! — to prove his guilt. He was innocent, she stated. That’s how Graves finally won his freedom.
Sebesta’s obsession with winning his case evidently clouded his judgment, and still does. His behavior is by no means representative of Texas’ justice system, but the fact that the system allowed such blatant error — nearly costing an innocent man his life — is exactly why Texas needs to reconsider its use of the death penalty.
Death is irreversible. Our capital punishment system has been proved imperfect. Charles Sebesta’s conduct in this case places these facts into high relief.
This state’s criminal justice system is too flawed to justify the use of the death penalty.
No credible evidence
“After months of investigation and talking to every witness who’s ever been involved in this case, … after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder. He is an innocent man.”
— Oct. 27 statement by special prosecutor Kelly Siegler

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