Saturday, March 04, 2006

Prosecutors improperly withheld confession in death penalty case

In a rare reversal based on prosecutor misconduct ("harmless error" is usually their mantra), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Anthony Graves, who has been on Texas death row for the past 12 years. Reported Harvey Rice in the Houston Chronicle ("Death-row inmate may get new trial," March 4):
Prosecutors withheld two statements that could have changed the minds of jurors who convicted Anthony Graves of killing a woman and five children in Burleson County 12 years ago, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a decision by a Galveston federal judge and ordered a new trial for Graves, 40, who has been on death row since his conviction.

The appeals court said in a 22-page opinion that the withheld statements could have discredited testimony by the state's key witness, Robert Carter, who was executed for the slayings.

Although Carter's testimony convicted Graves, he proclaimed Graves' innocence moments before his execution.

The appeals court said that Charles Sebesta, then district attorney for Burleson and Washington counties, failed to tell Graves' lawyers that the night before the trial, Carter said: "I did it all myself, Mr. Sebesta. I did it all myself."

Think what chutzpah it took for prosecutors to withhold the recantation of their main witness from the defense, much less for the district judge to say it would have made no difference in the trial! "The appeals court decision overturns a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge John Froeschner that was adopted by U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent," reported Rice.

This is what happens when prosecutors seek convictions instead of justice. Read the opinion (pdf)

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