The following editorial was published by the Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus, GA) on June 15, 2015.
The particular case at hand happened in Texas, but this
isn't really about Texas. It's about justice. (Abundant evidence to the
contrary, the two are not mutually exclusive.)
As reported over
the weekend, a former prosecutor named Charles Sebesta, who spent 25
years as a district attorney in a couple of mostly rural Texas counties
about 100 miles from Houston, had to forfeit his law license after a
State Bar of Texas review panel concluded he was guilty of professional
Lest that sound too dully bureaucratic -- like maybe
he fudged on some paperwork -- Sebesta's "misconduct" consisted of
withholding evidence and using false testimony (that's called "perjury"
in some legal circles) to win a capital murder conviction against a
suspect named Anthony Graves for the 1992 killings of six people. A
federal appeals court overturned Graves' conviction in 2006, and four
years later a special prosecutor concluded he was innocent of the crime
and should be freed.
All told, Anthony Graves spent a dozen years
on death row, including four after a federal court overturned his
The egregiousness of the prosecutorial
misconduct in this case boggles the mind. The ultimate outcome, had not
the appeals process (and a few strokes of good luck) worked in Graves'
favor, should sicken every American whose conscience isn't in need of
The actual murderer, a man named Robert Earl
Carter, testified at trial that Graves was his accomplice. Sebesta knew
Carter had testified before a grand jury that he acted alone, yet the
prosecutor let Carter and another witness give false testimony to win a
conviction against Graves. (Carter repeatedly recanted his implication
of Graves, including in the final moments before his execution in 2000.)
the sheer corruption of Graves' prosecution and sentencing not been
uncovered, an innocent man would have been murdered -- however the law
might define it, there is no other adequate practical term for it -- in
the name of The People.
Any argument that justice has ultimately
prevailed in this case would be feeble to the point of moral obscenity.
An innocent man lost 12 years of his life, and almost his life itself. A
guilty one lost his law license.
The question that hangs over
this particular case is obvious: Why is Charles Sebesta himself not
headed for prison? In what universe of justice is willful judicial
fraud, with consequences so catastrophic, punishable by nothing worse
than losing one's job?
A larger question hangs over the larger
issue: Why aren't there more and better investigative, prosecutorial and
judicial review processes in place for when criminal justice has gone
so horribly wrong? News stories about innocent people being freed after
years behind bars have become appallingly familiar. And while very few
of them involve this kind of horrific prosecutorial misconduct, they
still result in wrongs that can never really be righted.