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Anthony Graves is fighting for justice for all

Written by on February 25, 2021

By Lydia Dillard, Texas Southern University

Anthony Graves
Anthony Graves (Copyright 2015 Brian Goldman/Goldman Pictures All Rights Reserved)

After spending 18 and ½ years in a Texas prison and 12 of those years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Anthony Graves relentlessly fights for a fair justice system while serving his community and recently starting a position in the Harris County Public Defender’s Office (HCDPO) as the chief community liaison to advance changes in a system that has historically failed its citizens on all levels.

Graves started as the community liaison in November of 2020. He is the first exoneree in the nation to serve in this capacity; however, he envisions the role being created in every county across the U.S.

Graves said he and Harris County’s chief public defender, Alex Bunin, have discussed taking a holistic approach to addressing the flaws in the criminal justice system.

This includes looking at the systemic reasons for incarceration and addressing the collateral legal consequences.

“I will be using the participatory defense model, teaching families how to come together and share their stories for better outcomes in the judicial system,” Graves said.

Graves said this is a groundbreaking initiative.

“What it says about the system is that it is acknowledging its failures. It is now acknowledging that we do not have an infallible system. It is also acknowledged that in order to make the system better, we must go to those who have learned and lived experiences who can teach us how to make it better. That’s where I come in. We all have to participate, even those that the system has failed,” Graves said.

The position is an ideal fit for Graves who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to prison in 1992 at 26.

In the small town of Somerville, Texas, an unspeakable murder of six family members occurred. The family was drenched in gasoline, and set on fire along with their house. The suspect, Robert Carter’s son, was one of the victims. Carter was interrogated by police, and after hours of questioning, he mentioned the name, Anthony Graves, as an accomplice to the crime.

“Him calling my name was enough to change my life,” Graves said.

Graves was informed by his neighbor that the police were looking for him. Perplexed knowing he did nothing wrong, Graves didn’t know what was going on. He decided to find out for himself. So, he went searching for the police.

“One thing I learned is don’t go searching for the police,” Graves said.

A police officer handcuffed him, put him in the squad car, and took him to the station. Once he arrived at the police station, after a short time, four Texas Rangers, along with a magistrate, started to read his Miranda Rights and told him he was being charged with capital murder. Graves was incarcerated for two years before his trial.

“My naivety of being innocent, I believed that if I were to just get to trial, the truth would come out and I could go home,” Grave said believing his innocence would be proven during trial.

The trial was moved to Angleton, Texas where now, Carter would testify against Graves, lying on behalf of an ultimatum he was given by a disbarred prosecutor to choose between the freedom of his wife or Graves.

Carter chose to testify falsely against Graves, to which he was sentenced to the death penalty. The prosecutor made a mockery of the system by concealing evidence and using false testimony against Graves.

After the sentencing, Graves lost all hope and faith for a brief moment.

Anthony Graves at 26.
Anthony Graves at 26. (TSU)

“I was praying every day, but when they indicted me, I was so upset, I took the Bible and threw it against the wall. I didn’t want anything to do with the Bible. I didn’t want anything to do with God or anything I couldn’t touch, see, feel, or smell,” Graves said.

Later that night, Graves couldn’t go to sleep. A voice told him to pick the Bible up, and he did, since then he has never lost hope or faith ever again.

After serving nearly two decades in prison and getting two stays of execution, Graves was released from prison in 2010. During his sentence, Graves witnessed many men lose all sense of hope and faith as a result of an “unfair and barbaric justice system.”

According to a study done in 2017 by the National Registry of Exoneration, innocent Black people are seven times more likely to be convicted for murder than innocent white people. Graves not only experienced the injustice of the system but also witnessed other Black men fall victim as well.

“This is not an accident. This is not misidentification. This is by design because I’m not the only one going through this,” Graves said, identifying the current justice system as in a state of deep despair that needs to be dismantled and rebuilt.

Ten years after exoneration, Graves serves as an advocate for rebuilding the justice system entirely to fit the needs of all people. He’s told his story all around the world, in hopes of change. He’s created change through his foundation. He also initiated a criminal justice speakers’ bureau at Texas Southern University working with the Urban Research and Resource Center, Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and the ACLU to help victims of the criminal justice system have a voice.

In the end, he wants to simply make the criminal justice system fair for all.

“My legacy is to leave the criminal justice system in a better place so that it does not harm my children, my family, my community. If this is my legacy, I will leave as the richest person on earth,” Graves said.

■ This story was written to chronicle Houston’s Black history as part of a partnership between KTSU2, “The Voice”, and KPRC-TV, for Black History Month.


About the author

Lydia Dillard
Lydia Dillard (TSU)

Lydia Dillard is a journalism major with a focus in advertising and public relations. Dillard wishes to continue her education with a Master’s or law degree.