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An Innocent Man
October 28, 2010 9:32 AM   Subscribe

After 18 years in prison on false charges, Anthony Graves walked out a free man yesterday. This recent Texas Monthly article by Pamela Colloff played a major role in bringing awareness to his case.

Graves' release is a victory for the Texas Innocence Network—and long-form journalism.
posted by mattbucher (36 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
How do we still have the death penalty after more and more of these stories keep coming out (usually from Texas). (Previously)
posted by schmod at 9:47 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Outstanding. Shameful that it took 18 years for the truth to come out. But yes, it is a victory for justice, however long delayed.

TX has a lot of answering to do with how it handles cases such as this. That whole debacle with the guy who was accused of burning down his own house with his children in it when it was found that the "tell-tale signs" of arson were actually nothing of the sort was big news recently, too. And they actually executed him.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


schmod beat me to it, probably while I was looking at Google to get the link.
posted by hippybear at 9:49 AM on October 28, 2010


I remember a couple years ago Fark would keep a running tally to see who had more executions: Saudi Arabia, or Texas.
posted by delmoi at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2010


(More executions each year, at least)
posted by delmoi at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2010


I have absolutely no interest in becoming a lawyer but stories like this make me want to go to law school and go work for the innocence project or something. it makes me SOOOOOOO ANGRY!!!!!!!

how can usa as a society even pretend to claim the moral high ground in the world as leaders of social justice and equality (although we do seem less and less interested in doing so) as long as these raging injustices continue. blargh!
posted by supermedusa at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2010


and yes, absolutely no death penalty until we can determine utterly the guilt of an individual (I still don't want it then but at least in the meanwhile we could stop it while we enjoy this inadequate system we've got)
posted by supermedusa at 10:01 AM on October 28, 2010


“I’m talking about the day at the jail,” Carter countered. “You said that you didn’t want to hear that coming out of me.”
“I don’t recall that,” Sebesta said

I wonder if he will be compensated for the time? So much for reasonable doubt.
posted by Felex at 10:12 AM on October 28, 2010


Everyone has a unreasonable fear outside of the reality of their actual lives. Juan Williams is scared of Muslims. I have a friend that is afraid of sharks (he lives in Iowa). Me? I am afraid of going to prison for something that I either did not do or something that I didn't even know was illegal.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:17 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


> I wonder if he will be compensated for the time?

I can't find a cite offhand, but I'm pretty sure I read that he will be getting $2 million. That's a nice chunk of change and I hope he's able to live comfortably and manage it well, but it actually seems lacking to me.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 AM on October 28, 2010


It always amazes me how strict we are with the rules for maintaining a person's innocence pre-trial and how much importance is placed on it ("better a thousand guilty men go free than an innocent man go to prison, etc"), but once someone has been convicted that whole sense of fairness is thrown out the window.

I don't get it. The whole anti-new trial sentiment seems incongruous with the founding principles of the justice system. I'm sure there is a legal explanation for it, but it feels wrong.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:26 AM on October 28, 2010


One of the major problems with our criminal justice system is we don't know how often it fails. That's why we should test it using a concept from engineering called error injection.

Get the police to make up a more or less reasonable case that has known flaws. A good place to start would be one where it turned out the defendant was actually innocent, like in this article. Have them fabricate evidence to support the case. Get an actor to play defendant and another actor to play witness.

Then give the entire case to the district attorney, and have it prosecuted as if it were a real crime. The judge, jury, public defender, and prosecutor wouldn't know that the crime is fake.

Will the jury notice that the prosecution's evidence has holes, or believe the defendant's reasonable alibi? Will the prosecution notice that the witness's evidence doesn't stack up?

Do this many times, in different courts, with different types of cases. If the justice system finds, say, 20% of these fake innocent people guilty, we can infer the number of innocent people who are behind bars. Repeat this process using fake guilty defendants, and we can infer the number of guilty people who got away. We'd also gather enormous amounts of information on how the system fails and how to improve it.
posted by miyabo at 10:26 AM on October 28, 2010 [32 favorites]


> once someone has been convicted that whole sense of fairness is thrown out the window.


You can also see this in journalism. Prior to conviction, the accused is referred to with terms like "allegedly", but once convicted it's often stated as pure fact that they murdered someone.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:31 AM on October 28, 2010


I read that he will be getting $2 million.

Hopefully tax free.
posted by edgeways at 10:36 AM on October 28, 2010


I wish that there were more tangible repercussions for police and prosecutors who willfully arrest and prosecute people they know to be innocent, or when they fabricate or suppress evidence and testimony that results in an innocent person being convicted. Really, it should be a felony, and nothing ever seems to happen to official who perpetrate these travesties when it comes to light.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:38 AM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Miyabo that is an excellent idea.
posted by wuwei at 10:40 AM on October 28, 2010


Miyabo, that'd be an excellent idea if the courts weren't totally swamped with cases already. Justice delayed is justice denied, and in America justice delayed is pretty much SOP.
posted by tspae at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


that'd be an excellent idea if the courts weren't totally swamped with cases already. Justice delayed is justice denied, and in America justice delayed is pretty much SOP.

I think Miyabo's idea is excellent. If we don't know how often justice is actually served, then the justice delayed idea does not apply. Fast and hot injustice does not become just.

Even if we only did one test case for every hundred, or even every thousand, we would something about the system that we don't know now, which is "how often is the system injust?"
posted by zippy at 10:56 AM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


> I wonder if he will be compensated for the time?

I can't find a cite offhand, but I'm pretty sure I read that he will be getting $2 million. That's a nice chunk of change and I hope he's able to live comfortably and manage it well, but it actually seems lacking to me.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:23 AM on October 28 Other [1/2]: ·≡»


lucky he is not coming out in Florida, which does not have a reparations procedure - you have to get a claims bill through the Legislature, and good luck with that in this climate. Freed, exonerated inmates have been screwed in Florida before.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:05 AM on October 28, 2010


One of the problems with the legal system is no one ever wants to go out and measure anything. It's all narrative.
posted by wuwei at 11:16 AM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Even if we only did one test case for every hundred, or even every thousand, we would something about the system that we don't know now, which is "how often is the system injust?"

And what do we do when we find out the system is "unjust" 5% of the time? We a "change" (of what sort?), measure again, and find the system is still 5% wrong, or maybe it's worse, or slightly better.

Getting a statistically relevant sample size, then extrapolating results to anything actionable, seems like a massive, massive undertaking.

There are so many different and complicated ways for the system to "fail," and the law changes constantly. I can't even imagine a practical QA system.

(I'm personally opposed to the whole adversarial system, so my opinions are likely skewed.)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:37 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is of course, a horrible thing to have happened. But I want to play Devil's Advocate here, just for a second. Sort of.

My logic professor in college suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that guilt should be decided by a computer, and not by jury. If the evidence adds up that guilt is valid, then the defendant is guilty. He used that as a preface to the discussion of why we use juries at all - and not computers.

His counter argument was based on the experience of Bernhard Goetz. He was arguably guilty of everything he was charged with. A computer would (possibly, probably) have dispassionately delivered a guilty verdict, likely resulting in a very long sentence for Goetz. However, the jury acquitted Goetz of all the crimes except one, a relatively minor firearms possession charge.

A jury can acquit someone as well as it can convict. The reasons for acquittal of the guilty can be just as idiotic and mind bendingly stupid as those where juries convict innocent people. But the reason for juries is that human beings are supposed to have a capacity for tolerance, compassion, mercy, and contextual understanding that would be lacking in a purely logical, fact-based finding.

Unfortunately, this means that juries also have the capacity for intolerance, vindictiveness, and prejudice.

For better or worse, this is why we have juries. We likely will have juries as we now know them for a very, very long time. Changing that aspect of the system is not likely to be very feasible.

What we need to do is to educate people about critical thinking, invalid argumentation, witness unreliability, and

Wait. WTF am I thinking? Juries are composed of idiots. They can't even get out of jury duty. People with the critical thinking skills I was describing are dismissed by the prosecution anyway.

Yeah, just disregard this post. I won't put it in my "written-but-never-posted" file, because it has some value. But yeah, by and large, juries are idiots and prosecutors are more interested in conviction rate than innocence.
posted by Xoebe at 12:44 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


In this case specifically, I think the false conviction was much more about sloppy police work and withholding of key evidence even during the appeals phase than it was about jury trials and whether they may be useful or not.
posted by hippybear at 12:59 PM on October 28, 2010


Never mind reparations to Graves; they'll be hearing from Franz Kafka's lawyers soon.
posted by Zozo at 1:19 PM on October 28, 2010


I can't find a cite offhand, but I'm pretty sure I read that he will be getting $2 million. That's a nice chunk of change and I hope he's able to live comfortably and manage it well, but it actually seems lacking to me.

Assuming there are no tax liabilities on the $$.

$2,000,000/18 years=$111,111/year

24 hours/day*365.25 days of the year=8,766 hours

$111,111/8,766 hours=$12.76/hour for every hour for 18 years for being wrongfully imprisoned.

Yeah, that shit isn't enough. I want at least as much as a dirty ass hedge fund manager if I'm going to prison for something I didn't do.

Twelve fucking dollars and seventy-six cents for an hour of prison....shiiiiiit.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:44 PM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Then give the entire case to the district attorney, and have it prosecuted as if it were a real crime. The judge, jury, public defender, and prosecutor wouldn't know that the crime is fake.

Because, yeah, district attorney offices have plenty of time to devote to fake cases.
posted by nomadicink at 1:54 PM on October 28, 2010


district attorney offices have plenty of time to devote to fake cases.
They seem to have plenty of time to devote to victimless 'crimes', like drugs and prostitute.

Miyabo's idea seems like a better use of taxpayer dollars than months long civil suits between colgate and crest over who patented 'whitening' first, or incarcerating people for decades whose only crime is 'illegal reentry' and THEN deporting them.
posted by goneill at 2:14 PM on October 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


err - prositution...
posted by goneill at 2:16 PM on October 28, 2010


goneill: Miyabo's idea seems like a better use of taxpayer dollars than months long civil suits between colgate and crest over who patented 'whitening' first, or incarcerating people for decades whose only crime is 'illegal reentry' and THEN deporting them.

It has more problems than that:

1. Never in a million years will this make it past an ethics committee.
2. Where are you going to get your research subjects? You have to control for tons of variables (location, crime accused, evidence, social factors) so you'd need thousands or tens of thousands of people to volunteer to go through the justice system. It would take years, completely disrupt their lives, and most people wouldn't do that even if you paid them.
3. It isn't safe. Some of your test subjects will get beaten by police or guards. Some will be beaten or killed by other inmates.

Basically, while I think it's a good idea, it's not implementable.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:29 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Get the police to make up a more or less reasonable case that has known flaws. A good place to start would be one where it turned out the defendant was actually innocent, like in this article. Have them fabricate evidence to support the case. "

Oh, you can get them to do that easily enough, it's getting them to stop that presents a problem.
posted by carping demon at 4:07 PM on October 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't see "they might be innocent" as much more of an argument against the death penalty than it is against jail terms. Jail terms can be stopped and a person released and that person can even be compensated, but the time is still gone. The horrendous trauma inflicted by the awful conditions of jail (in most places) is still there. Even improperly levied fines, while they can be refunded, still represent lost opportunities and damage done to peoples' lives.

A state shouldn't be putting people to death or imprisoning them unless it is 100% certain of their guilt. Any laxity in the accuracy of punishments is inexcusable.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If we can do fire drills, earthquake drills, and simulated attacks on our armed forces to test procedures and readiness, I don't see why arrest and trial drills would present insurmountable technical challenges.

And what would we do with what we learn? Know what we are actually getting when we send suspects to trial so that we can make informed policy choices around incarceration and the death penalty, possibly provide aid and support where procedures currently break down and lead to false convictions, and those are just two that cone to mind.
posted by zippy at 5:22 PM on October 28, 2010


A state shouldn't be putting people to death or imprisoning them unless it is 100% certain of their guilt.

Well, 100% accuracy isn't really possible. So jail is at least reversible, with the obvious caveats you mention. Death isn't.

But we'd have to release a lot of real, violent criminals if we held to "100% accuracy" instead of "beyond a reasonable doubt".

(Since eyewitnessess, DNA, everything can be fallible, I don't see how you could ever be 100% accurate, even in those cases where it _seems_ completely obvious)
posted by wildcrdj at 5:45 PM on October 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


The unnamed villain in this story is the wretched woman who wouldn't testify on what she heard because her parents would disown her for interracial dating. That is some "Long Black Veil" crap right there, except that she made the worst possible decision, and the reporter was a stronger soul than I would have been, not to name and shame her.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:05 PM on October 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I highly recommend "Ordinary Injustice" by Amy Bach to anyone who is interested in not just how these situations come to be, but also as a starting point for finding the solutions to preventing them.

Anthony Lewis author of Gideon"s Trumpet, reviews it in The New York Review of Books. (PDF)

Read it and weep.
posted by pianomover at 8:31 AM on October 29, 2010


"NPR's Melissa Block talks to Pamela Colloff, senior editor of Texas Monthly, who wrote an exhaustive piece about the case":

"Ms. COLLOFF: I think that's the question. I talked to him very briefly yesterday, and he said this is the beginning - I think, meaning, this is the beginning of my life or the rest of my life. But keep in mind he will get no money from the state of Texas. He's 45. He has nothing to his name. When he called his mother yesterday to tell her that he was finally being let go, he didn't know how to use his attorney's cell phone. And no amount of money, even if he were being given money, I think could give back what's been taken from him."
posted by futz at 2:52 PM on October 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


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