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Pamela Colloff

October, 2010

Pamela Colloff discusses her story about Anthony Graves, who served eighteen years in prison in Texas for a murder he did not commit. 

1.) Why did you decide to look into the case of Anthony Graves?

Graves’s conviction was overturned by a federal court in 2006. That’s unusual, and so I
became interested in finding out more, particularly because it was a death penalty case.
Graves was not released after his conviction was overturned; the original charges against
him still stood, so he was transferred from death row to the Burleson County jail in
Caldwell, Texas, to await retrial. I read up on his case, and my initial plan was to cover
his retrial. But years passed, and his case never went to trial. By this spring, he had been
sitting in the county jail for four years, so I began looking more deeply into his case.

2.) What surprised you as you did your research?

Graves had no motive. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. The only
eyewitness who could place him at the scene of the murders was the crime’s prime
suspect, Robert Carter, who later recanted his statements about Graves. It was hard to
believe that anyone could be sent to death row based on the “evidence” in this case.

I began by reading through the entire case file, which took a while, since the case is
eighteen years old. Then I interviewed people, including witnesses who had testified at
trial or who had talked to investigators shortly after this crime was committed. What was
astonishing was that the more I looked at the case, the less sense it made.

The fact that Graves had nothing to do with this crime was only confirmed by the work of
Nicole Casarez, who took an interest in his case in 2002. She had amassed an incredible
amount of information on the case. She and her students at the University of St. Thomas
in Houston had done a staggering amount of work. They never found a shred of evidence
that led them to believe that Graves had any involvement whatsoever in this crime.

3.) What has the response been since you published it?

The article generated a lot of media coverage, particularly in Texas, and helped focus
attention on Graves’s case. Incredibly, on October 27th, Burleson County district attorney
Bill Parham dropped all charges and Graves was released from jail.

This fall, Parham and his special prosecutor, Kelly Siegler, re-investigated the case.
They came to the same conclusion that Casarez came to, and then I came to: Graves was
innocent. Parham was clear that he was not dropping charges because too many witnesses
had died or because the evidence had become degraded. “There’s not a single thing that
says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,” he told reporters. “There is nothing.”

4.) Is there something you wish you had room to include in the piece but could not?

Unless you sit and read the entire case file, it’s hard to grasp just how many bad actors
there were in this case, or just how many times Graves was failed by the criminal justice
system, all the way up through the appellate courts. I wish I could have included more
of the court rulings in my article, but I was not writing a book. I also wish that I could

have written about Graves’s time on death row more extensively so that people could
understand exactly how awful the past eighteen years of his life have been.

5.) Do you expect the outcome of this case to have any effect on the criminal justice
system in Texas?

Days after charges were dropped, Governor Rick Perry commented that Graves’s release
showed that “the system is working.” No commission has been set up to examine what
went wrong in this case, and as far as I know, no legislation has been drafted that would
rectify some of the systemic problems that contributed to Graves’s conviction. So
unfortunately I don’t have a lot of faith that his release will result in any kind of reform.

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