Texas exoneree Anthony Graves announced Monday that he has filed a bar complaint against the prosecutor who sent him to death row for nearly 20 years. At a news conference on the grounds of Texas Southern University, Graves said he is asking the State Bar of Texas to hold former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta accountable for committing misconduct in his case by filing the complaint through his attorney, Robert Bennett.
In a November piece for Texas Monthly, Pamela Colloff cited a 2006 court ruling from the U.S. 5th Circuit that found Sebesta “not only withheld favorable evidence in the Graves case, he also suborned perjured testimony—or obtained false statements—from two witnesses on the stand. The Fifth Circuit, one of the most conservative in the nation, stated that Sebesta’s “deliberate” effort to mislead the jury with information that he “knew was false” was “perhaps even more egregious” than his failure to turn over evidence that was favorable to the defense,” to ask, why was this prosecutor never punished?
A bar complaint filed against Sebesta in 2006 by Bennett was summarily dismissed, and when Colloff investigated why, she discovered it was because the statute of limitations had expired – not because the bar had necessarily cleared Sebesta of the allegations made against him.
But a change in Texas law has reopened the way for the State Bar to finally hold Sebesta accountable.
Colloff explains in her most recent piece that Brandi Grissom of the Texas Tribune figured out that under a bill passed by the Texas legislature in 2013 and which became law on January 1, Senate Bill 825, the statute of limitations would be extended in the Graves case, and complainants had until late October of this year to file a grievance against Sebesta.
Graves did just that through his attorney, Robert Bennett, on Monday, telling media, “I am asking prosecutors who operate with the highest integrity to support me. I am seeking justice for the man who wrongfully prosecuted me.” According to Colloff, Bennett’s complaint will be the first to test SB 825 since it became law.
As we discussed in a November post, the case of Ken Anderson, former DA of Williamson County, has set a powerful precedent in Texas – one that Graves hopes the State of Texas will follow once again in the case of Charles Sebesta. In addition to filing a bar complaint against Sebesta, Graves’ attorneys will seek to pursue criminal charges through a court of inquiry, just as Michael Morton’s attorneys did against Anderson.
Graves told Colloff, “This is the new civil rights era for prosecutorial accountability… I am seeking justice.”
We hope Graves is onto something.