Anne Holsinger 0:01

Hello and welcome to Discussions with DPIC. I’m Anne Holsinger, Managing Director of the Death Penalty Information Center. Our guest today is Anthony Graves. Mr. Graves was exonerated from death row in Texas in 2010 and has become an advocate for criminal justice reform. He created the Anthony Graves Foundation, which has done work on a variety of criminal justice issues. He has testified before the United States Senate on prison conditions, and he is the author of Infinite Hope: How Wrongful Conviction, Solitary Confinement, and 12 Years on Death Row Failed to Kill My Soul. Mr. Graves, thank you so much for joining us. 

Anthony Graves 0:37 

Thank you for having me. 

Anne Holsinger 0:39 

To start, could you please briefly tell our listeners about your case? And what led to your wrongful conviction and eventual exoneration? 

Anthony Graves 0:47 

Yeah, of course. So, back in 1992, a horrible crime had taken place in this small county, an entire family was murdered. They was shot, stabbed, bludgeoned to death, gasoline was poured all over their bodies, and the house was burned down in an attempt to cover up the crime. And so this, this county no more than about 3000 people in so this this was like, the first time something like this happened and there was outrage. So matter of fact, the mayor of the small county came out the next day and said whoever had done the crime, didn’t deserve a trial, they should be caught and just hanged, right. So like a week later, they kind of decided to proceed with the case because funeral had taken place in the small county, and that were like Texas Rangers were at the funeral. A young man showed up with gauze wrapped around his head in his hands as though he had been in a fired. He immediately became a person of interest to the Texas Rangers. After their funeral, they follow him home has asked if they could talk with him, he agreed they took them to the DPS officer base where everything began to change. They interrogate this man over 14 hours in dark, call him everything but the child of God, and they end up telling him that they know he hadn’t done the case by himself. And they want him to give the name and so what they’ve done. This young man thought he has seen me in a jeep, as they were taking him into a DPS office, he thought he’s seen me in a jeep before with three other guy. So when they asked him for name of someone, he called my name, and asked him to tell to tell the story of what happened. He gave them like seven stories. Afterwards, they turned around arrested this young man charged with capital murder and then came the next door to my house, picked me up, took me to our the local jail and charged me with capital murder. And that began my nightmare. I’ll end up there wrongfully convicted because the young man that lied on me, ended up falsely testifying against me in trial, even though we never knew that he had been telling the prosecutors that I was innocent. They used his wife against him, they arrested his wife charged with capital murder, put her in jail for two months, and then let her out on a PR bond and told her to keep going forward. Otherwise, you know, that was no statute of limitation or capital murder. And so because of that, they got him to continue to tell the lie that he eventually told that led to my wrongful conviction. So I had a rogue prosecutor who was seeking a conviction at any cost. And I had a young man who lied on me to protect his wife because they, they threatened to go after his wife with capital murder if he didn’t tell them, continue to tell the story that he told against me. That led to my wrongful conviction, eighteen and a half years of prison to execution day. So that bro, all of that because a young man told a lot and a prosecutor one of the conviction. 

Anne Holsinger 3:51 

Wow, that’s awful. What were the circumstances that eventually led to your exoneration? 

Anthony Graves 3:57 

Great people, great, great attorneys, great advocates. When a young lady who was a freelance journalist came to visit me on death row, she worked on my story. And when I told her my story, she was just so blown away. She reached out to the Innocence Project and told them hey, I think you guys need to investigate this case. What a young, lady there by the name of Nicole Casarez and her students, she was a journalist professor at the time. They was at a death penalty clinic and they were talking about my case. And the professor had said that, you know, my case was on the fast track to excution, but it hadn’t ever really been properly investigated. And he asked everybody who would like to investigate the case, as you know, find out what’s going on with the case. And this, you have this professor that was sitting out there were her students. They say she said they all looked around and nobody had raised their hand so they all raise their hand and once they raised their hand, you know, that just changed my life changed my faith because they got involved in my case. And they started just really getting in and leaving no stone unturned, and actually concluded that I was witnessing. Then they came and visited me on death row, once they came to visit me, and asked me if I had anything to tell them. I said, I didn’t want to sit here and try to convince you that I was innocent. You know, if you’re gonna really do the work, you’ll find that out. And they told me they already had been on my case and believed in my innocence and that that just good people, good advocates, people that believed in justice, and just all worked in my favor. 

Anne Holsinger 5:41 

What was your experience like immediately after you were exonerated? Were there resources available to help you transition back to life outside of prison? 

Anthony Graves 5:51 

No, no. Maybe it was on paper, I don’t know. But that was nothing for me, except for my family and the supporters that I had before I come out. I mean, I remember my first few months, I didn’t know if I could make it out here. I mean, I was dealing with mild PTSD, and didn’t really know it. All I knew I was hypersensitive, I cried a lot. People thought I was doing well, but at nighttime, they didn’t see that I was on my balcony and crying 2:30-3 in the morning because I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t have a routine. I didn’t have no friends. I didn’t have nothing. I had to start all over from scratch. It was overwhelming at times. But because I had great friends, family, they were there for me to lean on. But I remember a lot of dark-like, dark days when I first came home because there was nothing in place for me to kind of lean on except for my family and prayer. 

Anne Holsinger 6:45 

Earlier when you described your case, you mentioned that this prosecutor was seeking a conviction at any cost. Eventually, his misconduct actually led to him being disbarred in 2015. And even though prosecutorial misconduct is a leading cause of wrongful capital convictions, it’s rare for a prosecutor to face professional consequences like he did. What do you think set him apart? 

Anthony Graves 7:09 

Me. Me and my pursuit of justice. Because at that time, when I, when he wrongfully convicted me, there was no provision in the statute of limitations laws that says that you could go after a prosecutor, after you know, you uncover, you find out he’d been wrongfully convicted until it can be resolved, read the statute for seven years. And if you hadn’t been able to bring a grievance for seven years, then the statute limitations run out. Well, when I came home, because my case was so egregious, they mended part of that statute, to let it run where where you can now file a grievance against the prosecutor, up to four years after you’ve been released, right. So in that timeframe, I was able to take advantage of that new that new provision in the law that allowed me to file a grievance against the prosecutor that did this to me. That led to hearing which eventually led to him being disbarred. Right, so I just took the law that was there for me and I applied it in a way that gave me a slight measure of justice. 

Anne Holsinger 8:21 

That same pursuit of justice is evident in your foundation. You started the Anthony Graves Foundation after your exoneration. What was it that inspired you to do that? And can you tell us a little bit about the mission? 

Anthony Graves 8:28 

Yeah, what inspired me to do that is this I spent 6,640 days of my life in prison for a crime I knew absolutely nothing about. But more importantly, I was spo-, I was exposed to the inhumanity of our criminal justice system, which is the prison conditions and the way we treat inmates, treat, treat people once we convict them, we treat them as they have no more rights in our country. We isolate them, we call them the worst of the worst and it allows us to feel comfortable treating them subhuman. And when I witnessed all of this, I realized that one of the main things that was lacking was this lack of communication between family and, and the the inmates that were incarcerated, attorneys and the inmates that was caught incarcerated. And it led to a lot of wrong choices on behalf inmates. And so I decided when I came home understanding all this, I wanted to create a foundation that addressed this gap between the community, gap in communication between attorneys and clients and families so that people can have the right types of information to make the best choices in this system. So I created this project called the Peer Navigator Project. And what I’m doing is training formerly incarcerated individual how to work alongside criminal defense attorneys to mentor their clients and their family members. So that they can be, they can, they can hear from someone who have the lived experience, right, which is the most important thing. They have the lived experience that where they can now build trust, and relationships where attorneys can’t with their clients, which will lead to the best possible outcomes because building that trust and bridging that communication will help lead to the best results, and the best decisions being made in the case for everyone. So that’s what we’re doing at my foundation, the Peer Navigator Project, I’m just really trying to create a profession for people who are coming back, and who wants to contribute to society, but wants to have, want to have something that happens as a career. So you know, this, this gives them a career, which I feel like we have stigmatized this ex felon, label, that old people and hope we can do that we can give them more opportunities out here. So I’m just trying to create a refresher for set of returning citizens to come out here and make a contribution to a system that they once found themselves in by mentoring clients, and mentoring family members so they can make the best decisions for themselves. So it all comes together. 

Anne Holsinger 11:18 

That’s really wonderful. Could you describe, maybe give an example of how that communication between clients and attorneys can be improved? 

Anthony Graves 11:29 

Yes because of someone such as myself who have lived experience, automatically, when I come in and talk with your client, there’s just a, there’s just a connection that you can’t get with him. And because of that, he and I are allowed to just talk about things that they’re going through that the attorney may not be able to really understand being that there are cultural differences, and all that. And so because we have that same shared little bit experience, that’s the automatic trust that we can build up all, which helps bridge that gap communication between the attorney and the client, because now the navigator can come in and being the intermediary, and he can make sure that whatever the concerns are with the client that is related to the, to the attorney and what and vice versa, and that, that for even when the attorney is representing his other clients, the client that I’m represented, the peer navigator over here working with is trusting, trusting the attorney because he’s this he’s trusting the peer navigator, who’s now telling him from the lived experience that his attorney is doing good work. Or that his attorney is showing him what he can, whatever the case may be, it’s because of the peer navigator that trust is built. It makes for a smooth relationship between attorney and client, as well as with the family members because the peer navigator can now reach out to the family members and get in, keep them abreast on just the basic language of the of the criminal justice system so they can better understand what their loved one has gone through such as the court proceeding just explaining those things to him explaining what are, however rare should be those just so basic things about the legal system can be relayed to the family members as well as the client so everybody’s getting educated so they can be better informed and make the best decision. And then at the same time, this trust relationship is being built because two people will live the experiences. They’re building it together. 

Anne Holsinger 13:27 

In addition to your work with your foundation, you’ve also spoken across the country and worked with organizations like the ACLU and the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty to reform the criminal legal system. What do you think are the top three changes that you would like to see in the legal system to prevent future wrongful convictions like yours? 

Anthony Graves 13:47 

If I were to summarize three most important changes I would make in the criminal justice system to prevent wrongful convictions, they would be strengthening the investigation process. Fully improving the quality and thoroughness of investigations is crucial. This includes providing adequate resources and training to law enforcement agents, ensuring evidence is gathered and analyzed, accurately. And promoting open mindedness in exploring all possible leads and suspects. And number two would be enhancing access to quality legal representation. Every individual accused of a crime should have access to competent legal representation throughout the entire legal process. This includes providing adequate funding for public defenders, court-appointed attorneys and proving in a defense system and ensuring the defendents have the resources and support necessary to mount a strong defense. And lastly, I will say and most importantly to me is implementing safeguards against misconduct. It is essential to establish robust mechanisms to address and prevent misconduct within the criminal justice system. This includes holding prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and other officials accountable for any unethical and illegal acts. Implement mandatory recording of interrogation, stricter rules regarding disclosure of evidence, and promote transparency in the system can help prevent wrongful convictions. These changes aimed to address systemic flaws that can lead to wrongful convictions, and promote fairness, accuracy and integrity within the criminal justice system. So these are the things that I think should be the most important and should be proirity number one, two, or three, in terms of addressing issues that can help us prevent wrongful convictions. 

Anne Holsinger 15:37 

And how do you think stories like yours and the 195 other death row exonerees affect people’s views on the death penalty? Are there things that you wish more people knew about wrongful convictions? 

Anthony Graves 15:49 

There’s a lot to say, I think what happens when they hear our stories, when we share our stories, they are faced with the reality that the death penalty is not infallible. That is, when we have the death penalty, we run the risk of executing someone’s loved one who doesn’t deserve to die. And so I think our stories remind people that we were dealing with human beings, and that a system that were put together was created by human beings, and that we do make mistakes. Now, what we got to do about it, I think we’re lagging in that area, because we now have the evidence to prove that we almost executed almost two-hundred people that were innocent, because they walked up our death, off our death row. So you know, I think what why we can get there is the narrative of his role, we’re always asking the wrong question. We asked him, do you believe in the death penalty? That shouldn’t matter? I don’t care. If you believe in the death penalty that’s between you and whoever you believe in, whoever you serve. The question should be changed, they should be asking, do you think the death penalty works? And when you have 200 people who walked off of death row, who have been found out to be innocent, you can, you can unequivocally say no, that does not work, that it threatens innocent lives. We have the evidence now. So I think if we start changing the question, when we talk to people about the death penalty, people can give you a more accurate response to the question that’s been asked other than, do you believe in the death penalty? Yeah. I mean, you know, we’ve had it around for a while, it’s easy to just say yes. But when you ask, does it work, and you have the evidence to prove that two hundred people was, was threatened by the state to be murdered for something they didn’t do, then people find it much harder to say they believe in the death penalty, or that they support a system, that threatens innocent lives. So I think when they hear our stories, when we share our stories across the globe, is what I do, people are hit with the reality that we’re not dealing with an infallible system. 

Anne Holsinger 17:41 

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners? 

Anthony Graves 17:45 

Well, yeah, I just like to say, you know, I know that for your listeners, most of them probably are attorneys, and they work by deal with death penalty work, nonprofit work, doing death penalty work. We are a nonprofit, And we want to help you with your clients. You know, I, attorneys, you guys are great, nonprofits doing the work around inmates are great, I know in your hearts are in the right place. But there’s something that has always been missing that I’m trying to bring to the table. And that is incooperating lived experiences in this holistic approach to real representation of your clients. We want to make sure that they’re mentally and emotionally stable while you represent guys. It does no good for you to fight for their life and then they end up crazy before you can get around. So I know from sitting behind those walls, how important it is to have someone that have access to your attorney, that you can come back, that comes down and know what you actually going through. It’s been many times that I will always want someone to know and understand what it is that I’m actually going through, instead of just seeing about the X’s and O’s in my life and if can hear me or not. I always wanted someone that I connect with, someone who could go and talk, talk to my attorney about things that was on my mind, but I couldn’t get to him or he wouldn’t respond to my letters because he was busy. A peer navigator is so important in enhancing effective legal representation, that I implore you guys to reach out and bring us a [unclear]. And let us help you represent your clients while you fight for their life. It is a the three-tier subscription-based project. And I would hope that you will care enough about your client to understand and this approach to representation is the best way to effectively save your class life. 

Anne Holsinger 19:35 

Thank you. It sounds like a really innovative program and hopefully this will help spread the word and introduce more people to the work that you’re doing. 

Anthony Graves 19:43 Yes, hope so. 

Anne Holsinger 19:44 

Thank you so much for joining us today. Do you want to give the web address one more time for the Peer Navigator Project? 

Anthony Graves 19:50 

Yes, it’s and I’m Anthony Graves. Reach out to us if you have any questions. Leave them and we will respond to them. But I highly recommend that you look us up and allow us the opportunity to help you save your client’s life. Because, as one attorney told me, it does no good to fight to help bring them home, if you bring them home crazy, because you didn’t pay attention to their emotional, spiritual and mental needs. I want to be that person to help you in that area that you didn’t go to school for. So please reach out. 

Anne Holsinger 20:31 

Right and if our listeners would like to learn more about the death penalty, they can also visit the DPIC website at To make sure you never miss an episode of our podcast, you can subscribe to Discussions with DPIC on your podcast app of choice.