Texas: Gov. Abbott should grant death row inmate Rodney Reed a reprieve, before it’s too late

Convicted murderer Rodney Reed is scheduled to die by lethal injection on Nov. 20, but Gov. Greg Abbott has the power to stop it.
As it stands, there’s no indication that Abbott will. He has only stopped one execution since becoming governor 5 years ago.
Reed was sentenced to death in 1998, after being convicted of the brutal 1996 rape and killing of a 19-year-old woman from central Texas, Stacey Stites. And though the governor has yet to weigh in on this specific case, he supports capital punishment, as do most voters in the state. According to a June 2018 poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, fully three-fourths of Texans strongly or somewhat support the death penalty.
But the question at hand has nothing to do with the death penalty, per se. Granting a reprieve would simply be the right thing to do — and a necessary precaution against the doubts that would linger, if Reed is executed as scheduled.
Reed has consistently maintained his innocence, and legitimate questions …

Texas prosecutor of ex-death row inmate faces disbarment

The prosecutor who tried a now-exonerated Texas death row inmate could face the loss of his law license over allegations that he withheld evidence and used false testimony to win a conviction.

An attorney for the exonerated inmate, Anthony Graves, said Monday that the State Bar of Texas had found "just cause" to proceed with a hearing against Charles Sebesta, the former district attorney in Burleson County.

Kathryn Kase, executive director of the Texas Defender Service, said the state bar notified her they were moving forward with a grievance filed by Graves in January. Sebesta also confirmed the state bar's finding.

Sebesta prosecuted Graves, who was condemned for the 1992 slayings of 6 people. He would spend more than a decade on death row.

One witness, Robert Earl Carter, was also given a death sentence for the killings and testified that Graves was his accomplice. But Carter would recant that testimony later, including in the moments just before he was executed.

A federal appeals court reversed Graves' conviction in 2006. It found Sebesta withheld that Carter told a grand jury that he committed the murders alone, and then allowed Carter and another witness to give false testimony.

A special prosecutor then appointed to investigate the case again found that Graves should be freed and declared innocent.

Since his release in 2010, Graves has called for Sebesta to be disbarred and punished. Graves said Monday that Sebesta was essentially guilty of "attempted murder" for pushing a prosecution that sent him to death row.

"We care about justice in our state," Graves said. "It's part of the initiation process to reform by holding this prosecutor accountable."

A 3-person panel is expected to hear evidence in private. It could dismiss the allegations, issue a public reprimand or recommend Sebesta's disbarment, Kase said.

Sebesta has said he continues to believe Graves is guilty and posted extensively about the case on his personal website. He said Monday that the state bar had already reviewed his conduct and cleared him once, in 2007.

"It's over," Sebesta said in an interview. "You get 1 bite at the apple and they've taken it and that's it."

Prosecutors in Texas have rarely been punished for wrongdoing in the more than 140 exonerations in the state. The highest-profile example is the disbarment of the prosecutor who tried Michael Morton, a Central Texas man wrongfully imprisoned for 25 years for the murder of his wife.

Source: Associated Press, July 7, 2014

Graves Prosecutor Under Misconduct Review

Charles Sebesta rejects innocence finding in 1994 prosecution

The Texas Defender Service announced today that the State Bar of Texas has found "just cause" to review allegations of prosecutorial misconduct against former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta, Jr. for his 1994 capital prosecution of Anthony Graves, for which Graves was eventually exonerated.

Graves spent 18 years in prison, more than 12 on death row, for murders he did not commit and of which he was ultimately declared innocent. Sebesta prosecuted and convicted Graves (along with other defendants) for a 1992 multiple murder in Somerville, and during his lengthy incarceration, Graves was twice scheduled for execution. His conviction was overturned in 2002, and he was ultimately exonerated altogether in October of 2010.

Prosecutors reviewing the case (Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham, and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler of Harris County) found not only that Graves was innocent, but that Sebesta had engaged in what Siegler called the "worst" prosecutorial misconduct she had ever seen. As Jordan Smith reported for the Chronicle in 2010, Siegler told reporters, "Charles Sebesta handled this case in a way that could best be described as a criminal justice system's nightmare. It's a travesty, what happened in Anthony Graves' trial." There was never any physical evidence tying Graves to the murders, and he had an alibi for the night they occurred.

Nevertheless, Sebesta continues to insist Graves is guilty, and on a web site he maintains continues to attack Graves (and Parham and Siegler) as conspiring against him and the rule of law. Of the prosecutors, he writes: "They needed to perpetuate their argument by destroying my credibility and convincing everyone that Charles Sebesta had committed numerous acts of 'Prosecutorial Misconduct' in obtaining the conviction. With an anti-death penalty, liberal media 'lapping up' everything they said, that wouldn't be too difficult. In fact, it would become a 'feeding frenzy' of half-truths and lies." [quotation marks in original]

According to a statement released by Kathryn Kase, executive director of TDS and counsel to Graves, Sebesta elected to have his case heard by an administrative judge, meaning the proceedings will remain confidential pending a decision; had he agreed to have the case heard before a state district judge, the proceedings would have been public. Kase added, "The State Bar of Texas has power to sanction Charles Sebesta for his unethical conduct, up to and including disbarment and loss of his license to practice law in Texas."

Kase continued, "As yet unresolved is whether this rogue prosecutor will be held accountable for his violations of law, ethical misconduct, and breaches of the public trust. Texas citizens deserve to be represented by zealous prosecutors, but only those who follow the rule of law, and who respect the presumption of innocence."

In a statement also released by Kase, Graves noted that Sebesta has refused to accept Graves' exoneration and continues to insist he is a murderer and attack his character. "I sought justice for a long time while imprisoned, having to trust the court system and the legal profession to care about justice, and to do the right thing," Graves said. "I am glad to see the State Bar of Texas now act favorably on my grievance at this stage. I am confident that the Bar will discipline Mr. Sebesta for his misconduct and do whatever it can to stop him from continuing to persecute me, a completely innocent man."

Source: Austin Chronicle, July 7, 2014

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