Thursday, February 17, 2011

Bittersweet exoneration stories

Coupla notable, if troubled, innocence-related stories:

Tony Hall, the East Texas man whose false conviction for child molestation was discussed in this Grits post,  was formally exonerated by the Court of Criminal Appeals this week. These lines from the Lufkin Daily News, though, broke my heart:
While Wednesday should have been a happy day for Hall, it was a day of mixed emotions, as he unexpectedly lost his half-brother, Sammy Fuentes, Sunday morning. Fuentes, 44, was found dead at a park behind CVS on Frank Avenue. Hall said he believes his brother died of a massive heart attack, as their father died of one at 54.

“He was at my house Saturday. His momma called Sunday and said he was gone,” Hall said tearfully. “I thought Sammy would be here to share this with. We were going to go to Houston to celebrate when I won my case.”

A month ago, Hall lost another close friend, a woman named Jane.

“I don’t have anybody to share this with. This should be a happy day, huh?” he asked shrugging. “(Attorney) Jeff (Bates) called me this morning and said ‘you won, Tony.’ I just broke down. It was too much to take. I said ‘but it feels so empty.’ I’m free. I’m innocent and they know it now, but I would trade all of this to have Sammy and Jane back.”
Ugh! What a terrible, bittersweet "victory," having served the 15-year sentence day for day. Perhaps relatedly, this AP article describes the close-knit relationship among exonerees in Dallas, who are so numerous, and face so many unique difficulties, that they've more or less formed their own support group. As Mr. Hall's story demonstrates, there are some issues faced by exonerees when they finally leave prison that the rest of us could probably never relate to, the depth of compounded tragedy is so profound. Poor guy. “I’m going to take this money, pay my mom’s bills off and get her a place and then I’m gone,” Hall told the Lufkin paper. “I’ve got to go somewhere else and start over far, far, far away.” I don't blame him.

In other innocence-related news, Gov. Rick Perry said he thinks Anthony Graves' case was a "great miscarriage of justice," which must really irk former Burleson DA Charles Sebesta. From the Houston Chronicle:
Governor's office spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said Perry could not pardon Graves because a federal appeals court had thrown out the original conviction, and a governor could only pardon a convicted criminal.

The governor's office has been consulting with Graves' attorneys, Nashed said.

"We understand that Anthony Graves is innocent, and have been in contact with his lawyers, who are pursuing every available option to ensure that he is granted the restitution he deserves," she said.

Graves attorney Jeff Blackburn of Amarillo said the governor's statement that Graves is innocent gives a moral boost to the effort to win compensation for him.
The Comptroller ruled that the innocence compensation statute, which in the interest of full disclosure I helped lobby for in 2009 on behalf of the Innocence Project of Texas, doesn't cover Graves' unique circumstances. The statute was designed to address the 21st century rise of DNA exonerations, while Graves' case doesn't fit that narrow procedural mold. And, the reality is the language was a compromise with DAs and law enforcement interests who didn't want to expand the definition of "exoneree" too broadly, which is the practical reason for the disconnect between the statute language and courtroom procedure that Scott Greenfield discusses. Still, it'd be a shame for him to have to resort to some massive federal civil rights lawsuit when the Governor agrees that Graves was falsely convicted and "deserves" compensation.

MORE: From Paul Kennedy, on the denial of Anthony Graves' compensation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Hall is a hero of mine. Having been accused of a sex crime and being found not guilty and serving no time, I can only begin to imagine the pain he has suffered.

In my case, accused of sex crimes against children, it's notable that the woman who accused me does not mention her daughters in her written statement. She also is very clear that we had no contact with each other, she didn't look at me and to her knowledge I never looked at her or her children. "It wasn't as if he was like walking up to me specifically" she said. In her written statement her words were that I APPEARED to be walking with "himself exposed." This is a level three felony in NJ, if convicted a state prison sentence of five years and Megan's Law follows.

None of this mattered, as I submitted a notice of tort claim in NJ which one must do to retain their right to sue the police. One has ninety days after the arrest to do this, just long enough for prosectors to see if one is suing the cops and if they dare to, according to every attorney I spoke with, the defendant ensures their own indictment.

My life is in shambles and I was found not guilty and never was in jail overnight. God bless Mr. Hall, I have never met him but he is my hero. I too pushed my case to trial excepting no deals, but I was and remain free and vindicated--he was tortured in every way. We both however, have one thing in common for sure. We never gave our souls to the devils that tried to take them.