Anthony Graves read in the newspaper about the crowd at the Republican presidential debate applauding the fact that Gov. Rick Perry had authorized 234 executions during his tenure.
“How can you applaud death?” Graves asked.
Graves is one of 12 death row inmates who have been exonerated in Texas since 1973. Five of those exonerations occurred while Rick Perry was governor, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a group that opposes capital punishment.
“The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place in which when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court if that’s required,” Perry said during the debate Wednesday.
Perry defended the use of the death penalty in his state and told the audience, “I think Americans understand justice.”
But Graves said his mother would not be one of those Americans. Graves spent 18 years in prison and 12 years on death row as a convicted murder. In 2010 his conviction was overturned and he was released.
“He should ask my mother about that, ” he says. “She lost her son for 18 years.”
Graves says he was stunned at the governor’s comments because he was exonerated less than a year ago. “I was exonerated from the very same system that he is boasting about. He’s a politician, but I’m an exoneree and I think I know more about the subject.”
In fact Perry was quick to admit in 2010 that Graves’ murder conviction had been a miscarriage of justice. The governor worked to pass a bill that lead to Graves being awarded $1 million for his incarceration. But Perry also said last year that Graves case proves that the system worked.
In 2010 the governor said of the case, ”I think we have a justice system that is working, and he’s a good example of–you continue to find errors that were made and clear them up,” according to an account in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal.
Graves had been convicted of assisting in multiple murders in 1992. In 2006, the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit overturned his conviction citing that prosecutors had made false statements. A special prosecutor hired for the second trial realized after months of investigation that Graves was innocent.
Former Harris County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Siegler told the Houston Chronicle, “This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn’t make the case anymore. He is an innocent man.”
Graves says he appreciates the work that Perry did to work for his compensation. “He passed a bill that lead to my compensation, but he knows there is a problem with the criminal justice system.”