Earlier, Falkenberg suggested that the reason the local judge isn't willing to overtly declare Graves "innocent" to make him eligible for compensation is that her father was the presiding judge at Graves' original trial, as well as a former law partner of Charles Sebesta, the District Attorney who tried the case.At first, I was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon of those attacking Combs' decision. She is not an attorney or a detective. If the paperwork doesn't say "innocent," it's not her job to go out and conduct her own investigation. And broadly interpreting the statute could open the floodgates for baseless compensation claims.
But, it turns out the comptroller's office has been widely inconsistent through the years in the way it has applied the versions of the compensation law, resulting in payments to some people whose cases were far less clear-cut or worthy of compensation than Graves'.
Then-Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn agreed several years ago to compensate 19 out of 21 of the folks who were caught up in the infamous 1999 Tulia drug bust, even though they'd received only general pardons, not pardons based on innocence, according to their Plainview attorney, Brent Hamilton.
The group included one person who served concurrent prison sentences when his probation was revoked on an unrelated drug charge. Strayhorn went so far as to seek an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2007 on whether the man qualified for compensation. The AG said he did.
"You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard some of those folks got paid," said Amarillo attorney Jeff Blackburn, chief counsel for Innocence Project of Texas who handled some of the Tulia cases, in which convictions were tainted by prosecutorial misconduct and the perjured testimony of a rogue undercover investigator.
From where I stand, this doesn't seem to be a matter of law, but of "want to." The judge in the case could do it, but that'd make Daddy look bad so she doesn't want to. Falkenberg's probably right that the Comptroller could bestow compensation if she chose to do so, but she doesn't want to, either. And my personal view is that Governor Perry has all the authority he needs to grant Graves a pardon. Over at Pardon Power, historian P.S. Ruckman wrote that Governor Perry's self-imposed bar from pardoning Graves "seems to defy all reasonable interpretation of the clear meaning of the State's Constitution - as well as common sense and basic standards of fairness and decency."
When politicians say they want to help, their sincerity can best be measured by their actions, not the earnestness of their declarations. Time will tell who, if anybody, among these various officials, who all could help Mr. Graves, really wants to do so.
See related coverage:
- Can Governor Rick Perry Pardon Anthony Graves?
- Bittersweet exoneration stories
- Texas Monthly vs. Charles Sebesta
- Legislature should limit immunity for sleazebag prosecutors like Charles Sebesta
- The Anatomy of a Frame-Up: More on Anthony Graves
- Governor: Graves case shows system works (just not Texas')
- Flurry of media surrounding Anthony Graves exoneration
- Anthony Graves: Innocent and free 16 years after unfounded death sentence
- Progress and its Discontents - or, What I learned from an article in Texas Monthly (guest post by Jeff Blackburn)