It’s been eight years since the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the DA who prosecuted Anthony Graves for capital murder had done something unconscionable : withheld favorable evidence and used false testimony to secure a conviction—a conviction that sent Graves to death row.For a long time, Sebesta has claimed that the state bar's prior failure to discipline him meant he'd done nothing wrong. (E.g., "Had I withheld evidence in the Graves Trial, ‘sanctions’ would and should have been appropriate. But that did not happen and the State Bar of Texas obviously agreed with their dismissal of the grievance!") But the bar's stated reason for failing to take action was a four-year statute of limitations on older cases. Then, Sen. John Whitmire's SB 825, passed last year, changing the statute of limitations for bar complaints related to withholding exculpatory evidence. Now, exonerees have up to four years after their release to file a complaint, which is the provision that placed Mr. Sebesta in the crosshairs.
Since that federal ruling came down in 2006, granting Graves a retrial, many good things have happened: Anthony was freed from prison in 2010, after all charges against him were dropped; he was formally exonerated by the State of Texas; and he received $1.4 million in compensation for the eighteen years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. But the man who secured his 1994 conviction—former Burleson County DA Charles Sebesta— never faced any consequences. The state bar took no action against him. Even when he continued to impugn Graves’ character, telling Texas newspapers as recently as this January that Graves was guilty of murder, he did so with impunity.
Finally, last week—twenty years after Graves’ wrongful conviction—the bar took a small but significant step toward ensuring that Sebesta would have to answer for his actions. The bar’s chief disciplinary counsel determined that there was “just cause” to believe that the former prosecutor had engaged in misconduct in Graves’ case. This finding followed a lengthy investigation, which the bar conducted after Graves brought a grievance against Sebesta this March. (Graves was only able to do so because lawmakers recently passed Senate Bill 825, which changed the existing statute of limitations, allowing exonereees to file such grievances with the bar up to four years after their release from prison.)
A legal proceeding will now follow, in which the bar will decide whether or not to dismiss the grievance, or sanction Sebesta. If the bar decides to sanction him, he could receive a punishment as light as a reprimand—essentially a slap on the wrist—or as severe as disbarment.
Though Sebesta has always put great stock in trying people before the court of public opinion—to this day, he continues to insinuate on his website that Graves is a murderer —he has asked that the bar hear his case in a confidential proceeding, rather in than open court. (The bar allows attorneys who are the subject of such grievances to choose whether they will have their cases heard in a district court before a judge or jury, or privately, before a panel of lawyers who serve on the bar’s grievance committee.) “His conduct against Anthony Graves was in a public proceeding and he continues to make public attacks on Mr. Graves,” said Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, a non-profit organization that represents Graves, along with attorneys in the Houston law firm Susman Godfrey. “He should defend his conduct in a public proceeding, for all to see.”
There’s no word yet on when the bar will make its determination about Sebesta. Whether or not the bar will take action at all still remains to be seen. Except for the recent disbarrment of Ken Anderson, the ex-Williamson County D.A. who prosecuted Michael Morton, the bar’s track record for disciplining prosecutors has been abysmal. From 2004 to 2012, in 91 criminal cases in which the courts decided that Texas prosecutors had committed misconduct, not a single prosecutor was ever disciplined.
Grits would love to have been a fly on the wall when Sebesta received the news about the state bar's latest action. I bet the old man was apoplectic. But I wish the former prosecutor had opted for a public jury trial instead of hashing it out in secret. Charles Sebesta never hesitated to go public with his various allegations and insinuations about Anthony Graves, and what's good for the goose ...
MORE: Find below the jump a press release from the Texas Defender Service on the topic, including a statement from Anthony Graves:
State Bar Has Found Just Cause to Pursue Disciplinary Action Against Prosecutor Who Wrongfully Convicted Anthony GravesThe Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the State Bar of Texas has made a “just cause” determination with respect to allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles J. Sebesta, Jr. in his prosecution of Anthony Graves in 1994. As a result of Sebesta’s misconduct, Graves spent 18½ years of his life in prison, more than 12½ years of that on death row, for a crime he did not commit and of which he was later completely exonerated by honest prosecutors.Mr. Sebesta has elected to have his case heard by an administrative judge. That means the State Bar grievance proceeding will stay confidential until a final determination is made and any sanction is imposed. If Mr. Sebesta had elected to have the case heard by a state district court, the case would have become public when the Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed its complaint against Mr. Sebesta.Anthony Graves twice faced execution dates during his incarceration. He filed his grievance against Mr. Sebesta on January 20, 2014. During the State Bar’s initial investigation, Mr. Graves also submitted an affidavit detailing how Sebesta’s unethical prosecutorial misconduct forever changed Graves’s life and the lives of those around him. A copy of that affidavit is provided with this announcement.The State Bar of Texas has power to sanction Charles Sebesta for his unethical conduct, up to and including disbarment and loss of his license to practice law in Texas.Statement by Anthony Graves: “Twenty years of being victimized by Charles Sebesta is enough. I never should have been on death row, much less for 12½ years of my life. The courts and the State of Texas finally agreed, and acknowledged that I am completely innocent. Mr. Sebesta thinks he can just ignore all that and keep claiming that I am a murderer. He continues to assassinate my character, forcing me to explain myself and to defend myself. That is not right—an honest prosecutor admitted that I am completely innocent, and the State of Texas agreed. I am not a lawyer, but I believe that any lawyer who doesn’t believe in the presumption of innocence—much less an absolute and incontestable finding of innocence as happened in my case—doesn’t deserve to be a lawyer in our great State.“I sought justice for a long time while imprisoned, having to trust the court system and the legal profession to care about justice, and to do the right thing. I am glad to see the State Bar of Texas now act favorably on my grievance at this stage. I am confident that the Bar will discipline Mr. Sebesta for his misconduct and do whatever it can to stop him from continuing to persecute me, a completely innocent man.”Statement by Kathryn Kase, Executive Director, Texas Defender Service, and Counsel to Anthony Graves: “We are pleased that the State Bar of Texas has determined that there is just cause to proceed against Charles Sebesta with regard to his conduct in the prosecution of Anthony Graves. Eight years ago, a federal appeals court determined that Anthony Graves was convicted in an unfair trial because Sebesta did not inform Mr. Graves’s counsel that the State’s main witness took full responsibility for the murder, and because Sebesta knowingly presented false and misleading testimony and information during Mr. Graves’s death penalty trial. Rather than try Mr. Graves again, honest prosecutors determined he was actually innocent of the crime and asked the State to release him. Not only did the State declare him completely innocent, it paid him some compensation for the wrongful conviction and imprisonment. By that point, Anthony Graves had spent 18½ years behind bars, 12½ of them on death row.“As yet unresolved is whether this rogue prosecutor will be held accountable for his violations of law, ethical misconduct, and breaches of the public trust. Texas citizens deserve to be represented by zealous prosecutors, but only those who follow the rule of law, and who respect the presumption of innocence. A prosecutor’s duty is not simply to secure convictions, but to see that justice is done. Conviction of an innocent man like Mr. Graves through prosecutorial misconduct is abhorrent and undermines public trust and confidence in the Texas justice system. The way to restore that trust and confidence is to hold prosecutors like Charles Sebesta accountable when they violate their legal and ethical obligations.“We are disappointed that Mr. Sebesta chose to have the Bar’s action against him proceed before an administrative judge, rather than before a court of public record. His conduct against Anthony Graves was in a public proceeding, and he continues to make public attacks on Mr. Graves. He should have defended his conduct in a public proceeding, for all to see. Regardless, Texas Defender Service will continue to assist both Anthony Graves and the Bar as Mr. Graves seeks this last measure of justice.”