The U.S. Finally Rethinking Solitary Confinement

solitary confinementAnthony Graves spent 18 years on death row in Texas, all in solitary confinement. He was the fifth and last witness to speak at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on solitary confinement Tuesday morning.

Mr. Graves spoke eloquently and powerfully to a packed room and an overflow audience about his experience, the deplorable conditions, and the lasting psychological effects he cannot escape. He was exonerated and released from prison around two years ago, but still carries the scars. He spoke of watching completely sane individuals come to death row, and within three years lose their grip on reality. He described what it was like to live in a very, very small box 23 hours a day, forced to sit like a trained dog when guards delivered food.

One argument against the death penalty is the danger of executing the innocent. It’s a strong argument – Mr. Grave’s case highlights this – but no one should have to live in the conditions he described.


Anthony Graves, Troy Davis and Innocence

Anthony Graves spent 12 years on death row in Texas for a crime he didn't commit.

The story of Anthony Graves illustrates how a particularly heinous crime can lead to an emotional response and a tunnel-visioned investigation, and how the result can be that someone ends up on death row based on nothing more than flimsy physical evidence (later discredited) and dubious witness testimony (later recanted).

Anthony Graves, it turns out, was innocent, and was set free from Texas death row late last year.  CBS’ 48 Hours Mystery did a good job of telling the story this weekend, and you can watch it below.

Troy Davis, who was also sentenced to death despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, and who remains on death row in Georgia despite recantations from most of the witnesses who testified against him, has so far been unable to exonerate himself.


Scent Lineup Not Necessary as Texas Prosecutors Declare Anthony Graves Innocent

Last year, Texas prosecutors wanted to use a “scent lineup” in a desperate attempt to generate new evidence against Anthony Graves, whose death sentence had been overturned in 2006. “Scent lineups” are a ridiculous form of junk science where dogs match a scent from a crime scene with a scent from a suspect (in this case the evidence from the crime scene was 17 years old, had been stored – actually lost – for years in an old unused jail cell, and came from a house that was burned to the ground).

Fortunately this year, Bill Parham, the new DA for Washington and Burleson counties, and special prosecutor Kelly Siegler took a hard 5-month long look at the case.  This refreshingly straightforward statement from Siegler says it all:  

“After months of investigation and talking to every witness who’s ever been involved in this case, and people who’ve never been talked to before, after looking under every rock we could find, we found not one piece of credible evidence that links Anthony Graves to the commission of this capital murder.  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.”

So, on Wednesday, October 27, Anthony Graves became the 139th person exonerated from US death rows since 1973 and the 12th exoneree from Texas. 

But how did he end up on death row in the first place?

Partly, it was because the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, elicited false statements and withheld evidence that would have helped Graves’ case.  But mostly, Graves’ conviction was based on a statement from the actual killer, Robert Carter.  Carter later recanted, and continued to insist that Graves was innocent up to and including the moment he (Carter) was executed.  After being tied down in the Texas death chamber, using some of his last words, Carter said:  “Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. … I lied on him in court.”

After the conviction was reversed, new prosecutors still attempted to re-try him.  The new judge (whose father tried the original case) allowed Carter’s statement to be used as evidence, even though Carter had retracted it multiple times and was no longer available to testify or be cross-examined (the state having killed him). Then, there was the lost evidence that was found, and the proposed “scent lineups” … But the responsible efforts of DA Parham and special prosecutor Siegler brought Anthony Graves’ legal nightmare to an end, after 16 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.