Ex-death row inmate stands up for public defenders

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ATLANTAAnthony Graves, a Texas man who has freed after 18 years of wrongful imprisonment, was the keynote speaker on Saturday at a Gideon’s Promise forum geared towards empowering new public defenders.

Graves, who was exonerated of capital murder in 2010, talked freely about the inadequate representation he received from his court-appointed attorney during his 1994 high-profile trial.

“He’d never tried a capital case before” said Graves. “He was overwhelmed and wasn’t experienced enough to handle that trial.”

Graves, a father of three, had an alibi for the night of the 1992 murders and there was no physical evidence that tied him to the crime.

His conviction rested on the testimony of Robert Carter, who confessed to the gruesome murders of a family of six in Somerville, Texas. But police refused to believe Carter carried out the horrific murders alone. Under pressure to name an accomplice Carter named Graves following more than 12 hours of police questioning, though, he subsequently recanted his story.

“It took me 18-and-a-half years to get home and two execution dates,” said Graves. “If I had experienced people, with the right resources, representing me I wouldn’t have lost nearly two decades of my life.”

Graves’ speech, which lasted for about half an hour, received a standing ovation from the audience at the packed Westin Atlanta Airport hotel venue. More than 200 people, including 35 graduates from the class of 2011, attended the Gideon’s Promise Core 101 graduation event, part of the organizations Leadership Summit.

The evening also featured a speech from Jonathan Rapping, the charismatic leader of Gideon’s Promise.

“Anthony has committed his energy, efforts and funds to making sure that no one else goes through what he’s been through,” said Rapping. “He is committed to working with lawyers that don’t have the resources.”

Since his release from a Texas prison on October 27, 2010, Graves has been a vocal advocate for criminal justice reform.

Launched in 2007, Gideon’s Promise is committed to training, mentoring and supporting public defenders in the Southeast who often struggle against long hours, low pay, overwhelming workloads to provide fair trials for people who cannot afford to hire a private attorney.

Rapping said he is committed to reforming a “flawed” criminal justice system that is biased against the poor, people of color and the most vulnerable.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti