The following editorial was published by the Houston Chronicle on February 15, 2011.
Exonerated death row inmate deserves state compensation for imprisonment
It might not be as unjust as spending 18 years in a state prison for a wrongful conviction. But in denying former death row inmate Anthony Graves state compensation for his ordeal, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs and her staff have trumped grievous judicial error with injustice by technicality.
Because a trial judge neglected to use the words "actual innocence" in an order releasing Graves and dismissing capital murder convictions against him for the killings of six people, the comptroller's staff rejected his application for a $1.4 million state-mandated wrongful imprisonment payment under the Tim Cole Act.
Graves was incriminated by false testimony of one of the participants in the 1992 robbery-murders and prosecutorial misconduct documented by former Houston Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler. She served as a special prosecutor reviewing the case after a federal appeals court voided Graves' conviction in 2006 and ordered a new trial. At Siegler's recommendation, the charges were dropped and Graves freed.
Siegler, known as a hard-line law-and- order prosecutor during her Houston career, has no doubt that Graves is innocent and deserves the state payment.
"I'm willing to testify to the fact that we believe he is innocent," she told the Chronicle. "I've signed an affidavit. I'm not sure what we are supposed to do to make it happen."
The latest complication occurred when the judge overseeing a new trial, Reva Towslee-Corbett, signed an order last year dismissing charges against Graves but failed to use the words "actual innocence." The law only allows 15 days to amend such an order. As Towslee-Corbett did not, and no longer has jurisdiction over the matter, Graves' attorney Nicole Casarez filed a compensation request with the comptroller, hoping that declarations of Graves' innocence from Siegler and Burleson-Washington County District Attorney Bill Parham would suffice.
That hope was dashed last week when the comptroller's office e-mailed a letter to Casarez stating that the judge's order was insufficient to qualify for compensation.
Graves, who has shown amazing forbearance and understanding through his long ordeal, reacted in similar fashion. "Nothing has ever been easy for me on this road to justice," he said. "I haven't given up on it, and I hope justice will prevail and I'll be compensated." Attorney Casarez indicated a civil suit to claim the state payment is an option.
It's obvious to us that under the spirit of the state legislation passed in 2009, Graves deserves compensation. No one disputes the fact that the man is actually innocent. And the $1.4 million payment that he's due according to the state's formula hardly makes up for the loss of freedom for most of his adult life. The state has paid more than $30 million to 67 wrongfully imprisoned Texans. Graves should be the 68th.
Comptroller Combs has appeared before the Chronicle editorial board in the past and earned our endorsement for office. We believe she is a fair-minded and diligent public official who should not be a party to this obvious injustice by technicality. We urge her to review the exceptional circumstances of the Graves case and do the right thing. No one can return his lost years, but the state of Texas can pay him the money.
We owe it to him.