I don’t know if I ever told any of y’all this, but I used to be a big advocate of capital punishment. The “kill ‘em all and let their version of God sort them out”. That changed a bit ago, and it changed with two words: Clarence Brandley. Typical Texas story: He is an African-American male, who, in 1981, while a janitor at a high school in Conroe, Texas, was wrongly convicted of the rape and murder of Cheryl Dee Ferguson, a 16 year-old student. OF COURSE, he was the only black janitor in the school, so equally of course, he HAD to be guilty, regardless of evidence to the contrary, right? Mr. Brandley was held for nine years on death row. He was actually strapped to the table preparatory to being executed when his sentence was commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After lengthy legal proceedings and community outcry - lots and LOTS of outcry, from all sorts of folks both black and white - , the case eventually ended in the Supreme Court of the United States. Clarence Brandley was freed in 1990. He's since become a Baptist preacher, has married, and has moved on with his life. He is a compassionate, loving, dedicated man who has done and is doing a lot of wonderful work within the community.
The point of all of the above, of course, brings me to yet another shameful incident here in Texas. Not that THAT should be a surprize to anybody; after all, Texas is *THE* death penalty state. Let me tell you about Anthony Graves. Anthony Graves was locked up for nearly two decades for a crime he did not commit. In 1992, Graves was arrested and charged with capital murder in the deaths of a grandmother and five children in Somerville, Texas - murders he didn't commit. "I went from home to death row," Graves said.
From the Texas Monthly article (http://www.texasmonthly.com/2010-10-01/feature2.php):
“Since August 23, 1992, Anthony Graves has been behind bars for the gruesome murder of a family in Somerville. There was no clear motive, no physical evidence connecting him to the crime, and the only witness against him recanted, declaring again and again before his death, in 2000, that Graves didn’t do it. If he didn’t, the truth will come out. Won’t it?” In point of fact, it did. From the same article: “Editor’s note: On October 27, 2010, just a month after the publication of this story, the Burleson County district attorney’s office dropped all murder charges against Anthony Graves and released him from the county jail, where he was awaiting retrial.”
The follow-up article (again, thanks to Texas Monthly (http://www.texasmonthly.com/2010-11-01/webextra6.php) goes on to document what happened when Burleson County – and the county prosecutor Bill Parham and Kelly “HANG ‘EM HIGH” Seigler – finally sat down and reviewed the case together with the group of St. Thomas University students that initially brought the case to their attention. Both of them became completely convinced that Anthony Graves had been wrongfully convicted, that there was absolutely NO evidence to support the allegations of his guilt, and that he was innocent. PERIOD.
You’d have to know the two individuals involved to know just how very rare this is. I called Ms. Seigler by her nickname, “HANG ‘EM HIGH”; in the state of Texas, that nickname applied to this woman is both accurate and apt. Her conviction rate is formidable, and she, like Bill Parham, is a person that follows the rule of law and the evidentiary rules with a zealot’s fervour. This is a good thing; the lady does her homework. Which, of course, is why her conviction rate is so high, and why she enjoys the reputation that she has of complete and spotless integrity. I’m glad that we’ve got somebody like that on our side – and even gladder that she is open to the possibilities that someone might actually be innocent, even though convicted by a jury of his supposed peers. He was declared innocent by a special prosecutor in October 2010, but Graves was denied compensation by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs because the order detailing his exoneration lacks the phrase "actual innocence."
That one statement is so shameful and chuckle-headed as to defy belief. I mean, what else is needed? A special dispensation from On High? I can see her point, but this is really ridiculous.
Well, I’ll say this for GovGoodHair at least. He’s a bigoted fool (as witness the “Jose Cuervo” remark that he made while addressing the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) last week), but at least even he can recognize injustice when it whaps him in the face. On Friday, Governor Rick Perry signed a special bill that was specifically designed by the legislature that will allow the former death-row inmate to receive $1.4 million in state compensation.
Mr. Graves filed a lawsuit in February against Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state's top law enforcement officer, seeking a declaratory judgment of innocence that would pave the way for him to receive the compensation. Graves' attorney, Jeff Blackburn, said Wednesday he will press on with the suit even though the money issue has been resolved. "Without a declaration of innocence, Anthony will never have his name and reputation restored," said Blackburn, chief counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas. "He will always be a man convicted of capital murder. He has the right to have that stigma removed."
This is some of the best news that I’ve seen in a long, long time. It actually gives me hope that all of the innocent folks that are sitting on death row and in prison right now will receive their justice. Sometimes, the system does work right.