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Prosecutor Disbarred for Wrongful Death Row Conviction

The former prosecutor who won a wrongful conviction of Anthony Graves for capital murder, sending him to Texas death row where he was nearly executed twice, has been disbarred.

Anthony Graves

The former prosecutor who won a wrongful conviction of Anthony Graves for capital murder, sending him to Texas death row where he was nearly executed twice, has been disbarred.  

In a ruling released Thursday, the State Bar of Texas found that Charles Sebesta committed "professional misconduct" as Burleson County district attorney when he prosecuted Graves in 1994 for a family's murder. Graves' co-defendant, Robert Carter, who was executed in 2000, admitted he was the lone killer. 

The bar complaint against Sebesta was filed by Graves, who was freed in 2010 after serving 18 years in prison, 16 of them on death row. Graves said his complaint was "nothing personal," but an attempt to correct the criminal justice system. 

"That ruling is more for the system than it is about me," Graves told The Texas Tribune. "It's about holding everyone responsible, and this is all part of it."

The bar's disciplinary panel found several prosecutorial mistakes by Sebesta. Even though Carter denied Graves' involvement when he testified before a grand jury, Sebesta did not correct Carter's false testimony against Graves at Graves' trial. 

Also during the trial, Sebesta told the court that an alibi witness about to testify on Graves' behalf was a suspect in the same murders. She was not. But after the courtroom statement by Sebesta was made, the witness, Graves' girlfriend at the time, Yolanda Mathis, refused to testify.

"Sebesta had no evidence or information tending to show Yolanda Mathis was suspect or had any involvement in the murders," the bar's disciplinary panel found.

A call for comment placed to Sebesta was not immediately returned. On his website, Sebesta defends his actions and points to the bar's dismissal of a previous grievance over the case. 

Graves' attorney, Kathryn Kase, said that despite recent trial evidence reform, namely the 2013 Michael Morton Act, which forces prosecutors to disclose all evidence against a defendant, suppression of proof favorable to a suspect continues. The act is named after Michael Morton, who was cleared of his wife's murder by DNA evidence and released after serving 25 years in prison. 

"Even with the Michael Morton Act, I hear every week about prosecutors who are withholding favorable information and these two cases should communicate that the State Bar of Texas is not going to turn a blind eye to a prosecutor's violation of ethical duties," Kase said. 

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