What Would You Do After 12 Years Of Solitary Confinement? #Innocents

What Would You Do After 12 Years Of Solitary Confinement? #Innocents May 14, 2019

On the night of August 18th, 1992, a grandmother, her daughter and her four grandchildren were shot, stabbed and bludgeoned to death in their home in Somerville, Texas. The 6 bodies were discovered when firefighters responded to a house fire. The killer had set the home ablaze.

The aftermath of this crime will serve as the first in an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at mommy@godlessmom.com. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Punishment and Reasonable Doubt.

A few days after the fire, a funeral was held for the 6 deceased family members, and when the father of the youngest victim, a four-year-old boy, arrived, investigators immediately took an interest. Robert Carter, a corrections officer, was covered in bruises, lacerations, burns and bandages. He was immediately brought in for questioning.

Carter’s story about how he’d gotten his injuries was a mess. Investigators saw through it. When he failed a polygraph, Carter knew he had little choice but to confess. He admitted to committing the murders and pointed the finger at Anthony Graves as his partner in crime.  When the two appeared before a grand jury, Carter changed his testimony, saying that Graves had not been present during the murder. They were both still indicted for murder.

Carter’s story of what happened that night changed several more times leading up to Graves’ trial. Some stories implicated Carter’s wife in the killings, others included an unknown man named ‘Red’ from a neighbouring town. In some, Graves was the sole killer, in others, Carter acted alone. Carter was swiftly convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. At this point, all eyes turned to Anthony Graves.

The only evidence the prosecution had against Graves was the testimony of Robert Carter and so began months of moulding and shaping his story to get a conviction. At Graves’ trial, the fact that Carter’s story had changed so many times and had at several points been that he had acted alone, was withheld. When Carter testified against Graves, state prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, allowed the changed testimony and at no point did he correct his witness, reminding him that he had assured a grand jury previously that Graves had not been present during the murders. The only version of the story the jury heard, was that Carter and Graves had committed the murders together. Further, when an alibi for Graves came forward, Sebesta knowingly lied to the court saying the alibi’s testimony should not be heard because she was a suspect in the murders herself. This had never been the case and by the time the court Judge pointed this out, the alibi witness had been scared enough by Sebesta’s statement, that she refused to testify on Graves’ behalf. Graves was convicted and sentenced to death.

On death row, Anthony Graves was kept in solitary confinement. He spent 16 years locked in an 8×12 cell with a cold, steel bed and toilet and sink. He says,

Whatever you think hell is, that’s what solitary confinement is—365 days a year, 24 hours a day. It’s a system that seems designed to break a man’s will to live.

Solitary confinement plays tricks on your mind. You’re bound by four walls, you’re cut off from society, and you’re left with just your own thoughts. Sometimes you start to feel like, if they treat me like this, I’m going to act like this. And then you risk becoming the kind of person that it seems like they’re trying to tell society that you are.

He was allowed out in shackles for an hour a day of recreation on his own. He was given the bare minimum to keep him alive, rarely eating past 3pm each day. He spent 16 years like this. Sixteen years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3paa8CT6OM

During this time, execution dates for Graves were set twice. Six months before his co-defendant, Robert Carter, was set to be executed, Carter wanted to give another statement about the crime. He admitted to committing the crimes alone again and maintained that Graves was innocent for the rest of his life. In 2000, he was executed by lethal injection and moments prior to his death, he reiterated that he had worked alone and that Graves was innocent.

For the next 6 years, Graves fought for his innocence with the help of the Innocence Network. In 2006, the court saw that the original prosecutor in Graves’ case had withheld exculpatory evidence, and knowingly allowed false testimony. The court finally overturned Graves’ conviction and set a new trial. While the new prosecutor assigned to the case reviewed court transcripts and proceedings, he began to realize that there was no evidence against Graves at all. Convinced Graves was innocent, the prosecutor assured the courts that making any case against Graves would be impossible and in 2010, Graves was finally exonerated.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX0KkqWAwWc

Since that time, Graves has struggled with the transition from solitary confinement to being free, but he has done so with grace. It took him very little time before he launched his own foundation in support of the children and families affected by the criminal justice system. He has become an outspoken activist against both the death penalty and solitary confinement and has used his $1.4 million dollar settlement with the State of Texas to do nothing but good.

In 2016, the original prosecuting attorney in Graves’ case, Charles Sebesta, was disbarred for failing to provide exculpatory evidence and allowing false testimony.

Anthony Graves came within weeks of being executed with nothing but recanted testimony to link him to this heinous crime.  He feels lucky to be alive and sees it as his duty to raise awareness for wrongful convictions. A goal that has been frustrating to accomplish. In his own words,

What has to happen is someone famous, someone that they admire, has to be falsely accused or has to be convicted, to where they say, ‘Oh my God, this has become an epidemic,’ because now they can relate.

Wrongful convictions has become an epidemic, and Graves is lucky to be alive. Others have not been so lucky.

It has been found that on any given day in the USA, 80,000 men and women are being held in solitary. African Americans are so disproportionately represented in the hole that it can only be described as perverse and systematic racism. Many of these solitary inmates spend upwards of 20 years in the hole. Recently, it was reported that Albert Woodfox, one of the Angola 3, spent 43 years locked up in solitary. Forty-three years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WAGnK6tyYs

Anthony Graves has written a book about his ordeal and the aftermath, which you can pick up here: Infinite Hope by Anthony Graves

If you like what I do here and want to support my work, you can donate here or become a patron here.

See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Punishment and Reasonable Doubt. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at mommy@godlessmom.com

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Image: Screenshot via YouTube


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Jim Jones

    I should be shocked.

  • phatkhat

    An awful lot of prosecutors would rather send an innocent person to their death than admit they were wrong. I once heard a warden of a supermax (he was a professor, too) say that if the person was innocent of that crime, they had done SOMETHING, or else they wouldn’t be in the crosshairs. The criminal justice system in America is hopelessly broken.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Part of it is maintaining a “winning streak” for prosecutors. If I’m not constantly getting convictions, how will I and everyone know I’m a good lawyer?

    Meanwhile, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. has yet to receive a TRIAL date…
    THREE YEARS LATER!
    Poor (white) Christian.

  • phatkhat

    He’s been judged incompetent to stand trial is why he has not been tried. Since he is up on 3 murder charges, it’s probably to his benefit.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Notice the person who knew exactly where they wanted to go, knew exactly what they wanted to do once they got there, and confessed all of it to police is mentally incompetent.

    Poor (white) Christian…

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Just because he’s capable of doing a horrible crime and confessing to it doesn’t mean he’s sufficiently competent to assist in his own defence.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    That’s what lawyers are for. Most of us are not “qualified” to “assist” in legal proceedings.

    The real problem is there is no defense. He KNOWS what he did read wrong. That’s why he confessed to police. Or do you think he didn’t know what he was doing when he confessed? Maybe they beat a confession out of him…

    How do you evaluate his competence? When he’s telling people he did it for jesus?

  • Chris Hogue

    I might look at the bright side. No one told me about their god for 12 years. In this country, that’d be a true miracle.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Actually, there are some fairly hard rules on how to assess that. And the evaluation is carried out by a court-appointed psychiatric professional.
    If the person is unable to assist in his own defence, standard procedure is usually to hold him in psychiatric care until such time as he can, then move to trial. So he might actually end up spending longer in custody than he would otherwise.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    Ah, rules.
    Emmett Till definitely knows how the U.S. legal system can be a stickler for rules.

    Kim Davis knows too. She broke the law (it wasn’t murder) based on her religious beliefs, so she should be able to plead insanity as well.

    The rules may intended to serve as maintaining order and fairness. But I hope you understand rules get abused in Authoritarian systems.

    Without knowing much, my opinion…
    A trial is about determining if a person is innocent or guilty. He’s admitted to the crime. Guilt is not in question at all. My ignorance on legal matters tells persuades me to believe SENTENCING would be where he serves the term is determined.

    Sorry I’m not buying it. It appears to be another attempt at avoiding the subject. If it happened after 2016 we’d be asking about his economic anxiety.

    He would not be perceived by many christians to be mentally ill. When he talks he sounds like a “good” god-fearing christian man. He spoke of being a celebrity hero in heaven; the babies are going to thank him for saving their baby parts.

    He very well may be mentally ill. Why is it just coming to light? Did anyone at any of the CHURCHES he may have (regularly) attended take notice? His job? Wouldn’t his illness, if so extreme, cause concern in the people around him, that have a chance to converse with him. My guess is none of the christian warriors saw any mental illness at all; all they saw was a man COMMITTED to christ.

    And the real danger is these possible statement:
    1. Extreme religious devotion can lead to mental illness

    Because many theists, eager to show their LOYALTY and OBEDIENCE to god, will have to contemplate if they are mentally ill.

    2. He took his belief too far
    That would be an admitting that followers of the faith don’t really, really have to be so committed; just pretend to be that committed on Sunday (or SaturNday). Ted Haggard knows that. MOST of the faithful know that dressing nice and empty gestures are most important. I would put emphasis on the hypocritical nature of the culture.

  • Kevin R. Cross

    Rules DO get abused, quite true. But they are also necessary for there to be any hope of a fair and equitable outcome for the majority of cases.
    And let’s be fair here. Emmett Till never got the advantage of any rules at all. Kim Davis got into trouble for NOT following the rules when they changed.
    And do note, this guy has NOT plead insanity. He hasn’t been ALLOWED to plead ANYTHING, because he is not considered to be capable of doing so rationally. He’ll get his day in court – once the psych unit he’s in has managed to get him to the point of being able to effectively work with his attorney. Until then he’s locked up 24/7.

  • Ray Kawamura

    I, myself am an Atheist, however, i know a lot of Christians. Most everyone in my family, and family friends, etc. are Christian. So, I know what i am talking about when i say, MOST Christians would think what that guy did was an act of evil, and would denounce him either as evil or delusional. Most Christians are not suffering from mental illness, even if they may be deluded in what they believe. To paint most of Christendom as mentally ill is just as bad as any one of them saying all non-believers are evil. The kind of Christianity you’re talking about is extremism, fundamentalism, young earth creationism, etc. That is the shit that needs to be fought back against. Most Christians are not extremists.

  • Wisdom, Justice, Love

    One question.
    Which phrase in my post paints MOST Christendom as mentally ill?
    My point was HE may be mentally ill. People around him in church may not have notice his mental illness.
    If anything the statement is not about most Christians being mentally ill.

    The statement would be:
    MOST (mean/median “average”) Christians are putting on appearances, being phonies and hypocrite is easy because there is no scrutiny of one another. So it’s easy to pretend to be something one is not. Say, pretend to have good mental health when the health is not that good.

    My guess is this trial will eventually lead to the question:
    Does religious “devotion” lead (most) to mental illness?

    And speaking of MOST “Christians”…
    You KNOW MOST Christians? In the world? My guess is you know many Christians, maybe of one or two “sects”, and like most sects transpose talk of “Christendom” to mean their “sect”. If I can be presumptuous, I think you mean “most Christians YOU know, or know of”. Please don’t think you are the only one that know many Christians.

    The desire to defend “Christendom” is one of the other things needed to be fought against. “Nobody better not say anything bad about mommy.” The inability to alter opinions is a form of extremism. Extremism isn’t always about radical speech or violent activity. It’s about extreme positions, not (re)actions.

    I hope this doesn’t come off as an attack; it’s hard to see inflection and such in text.
    The issue is enough of the defense and free passes. Until the not-extreme are asked answer tough questions, don’t expect them to be in the habit of holding the extreme to uncomfortable conversations.

  • The criminal justice system makes mistakes. These mistakes should be corrected and studied to learn how we can prevent similar ones in the future.

    The death penalty is unethical. We should eliminate it.

    “Solitary confinement” is almost never solitary. In the US, at least, inmates in solitary have some social interaction — with staff, with their attorney, and usually with their family on some schedule.

    Like any tool, solitary confinement can be used for good or ill. Conditions and purposes of solitary confinement vary considerably throughout the world. Ethical standards for the use of solitary should be followed, but the practice itself should not be abandoned.

    The conditions of imprisonment must be somewhat unpleasant for punishment to work. We should not place felons in five-star hotels where life is better than before they committed their crime. Some degree of social isolation is part of the punishment. It should not be too little or too much.