A former Burleson County district attorney has been disbarred after the State Bar of Texas found that he violated numerous professional tenets when he prosecuted former death row prisoner Anthony Graves for capital murder. In 1994, Mr. Graves was wrongfully convicted of murdering a Somerville, Texas, family of six and sentenced to death. He spent more than 18 years in prison and was nearly executed twice before being exonerated in 2011. In January 2014, Mr. Graves filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas, alleging that his wrongful conviction was the result of wrong-doing by Charles Sebesta, the district attorney who prosecuted his case.
On June 11, 2015, a three-member panel ruled in favor of Mr. Graves and stripped Mr. Sebesta of his law license. After a lengthy investigation, the State Bar found that Mr. Sebesta had violated five tenets of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, including making false statements at trial, knowingly presenting false evidence, failing to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence, knowingly violating professional rules of conduct, and engaging in “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.”
Mr. Graves was convicted solely on the testimony of a man named Robert Carter, who admitted to killing the family but identified Mr. Graves as his accomplice. Mr. Carter made repeated attempts to recant his statement and made clear that he was the sole perpetrator of the crime. Mr. Sebesta failed to inform the jury or defense counsel of this exculpatory evidence during Mr. Graves’ trial, even though he was required to do so by well-established constitutional and ethical rules. Mr. Sebesta also coerced Mr. Carter into again pointing to Mr. Graves as his accomplice during trial by threatening to prosecute his wife for the crime if he did not comply. Finally, Mr. Sebesta prevented an alibi witness from testifying at trial by falsely claiming that she was a suspect in the murders.
Mr. Sebesta is the second district attorney to be disbarred for prosecutorial misconduct in Texas in recent years. In 2013, Ken Anderson, a former Williamson County district attorney, was disbarred and sentenced to nine days in jail for misconduct that resulted in the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison before being exonerated.
Mr. Graves expressed his approval of the State Bar’s ruling, saying in a statement released by his lawyers, “It takes great courage to say a prosecutor was so clearly acting against the rules of fair play that he should be stripped of his law license, but the panel did just that, and I appreciate it.” He added that his complaint against Mr. Sebesta was not made with retribution in mind, but rather to restore integrity to the system that failed him for so many years.
Click here for the Project’s previous coverage of this case.