Anthony Graves Stuns Audience with Powerful Testimony
The room was completely silent as Anthony Graves described his time in prison for a crime he did not commit.
"People often say to me they can't imagine what I went through and I tell them please don't try. Because if you do, you will need counseling. I lived through hell. I've seen people cut their throats, hang themselves, lose their sanity. You lose a lot going through that. You feel hopeless, afraid. I had to find a piece of myself that they couldn't touch and hold on to it. I was 26 years old when I went in and 45 when I got out. I'll never be the same," Graves shared.
Graves was convicted in 1994 and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit. He served 18 years in prison before being exonerated with DNA evidence. He joined other panelists for a discussion about wrongful convictions at Sam Houston State University.
"Most people think that if you get arrested you must have done something. They have to believe that, because if innocent people can be put in prison then everyone is a target. It's a defense mechanism to think that only bad guys go to prison. The alternative is unbearable" said Graves.
The event was a collaboration between the Global Center for Journalism and Democracy and SHSU's School of Music. The panel was moderated by Emmy Award winning journalist and FOX 26 anchor Don Teague.
Other panelists included Jeff Blackburn, the founder and chief counsel to the Innocence Project of Texas and Professor Dennis Longmire, a faculty member at SHSU's Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Rather than focus on the problem, the panelists chose to talk about possible solutions.
"We need a healthy public defender system in Texas, like they have in Colorado" said Blackburn. "We need good lawyers for poor people, an institutional counterweight" he added.
Professor Longmire suggested legislation to hold prosecutors criminally accountable in the case of wrongdoing.
"Thirty-seven percent of exonerations involve prosecutorial misconduct. We need to hold them criminally accountable, not just civilly. Defense lawyers do their share of damage as well. We need to make the legal community live up to their oaths!” Longmire said.
As the result of a recent legislative change, Graves last month filed a grievance against the prosecutor who put him away; former Burleson County DA Charles Sebesta.
"This is about reforming the justice system so no one else has to live through what I lived through," Graves said.
Graves now runs Anthony Believes, a foundation devoted to helping at risk youth. The foundation also works to bring attention to the issue of wrongful conviction.
The passionate discussion was followed by a powerful musical presentation of works inspired by the social injustice of wrongful convictions; The Fall of the Empire, Too Much Doubt and The Innocents. The rest of the evening was devoted to a musical presentation inspired by the Attica prison uprisings in 1971.
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