On August 18, 1992, police were called to a burning home in Somerville, Texas, where they found the bodies of 45-year-old Bobbie Davis, her 16-year-old daughter, and her four grandchildren, ages 4 to 9.
Davis and the grandchildren had been stabbed, beaten and strangled. Davis’s daughter, Nicole, had been fatally shot.
A few days later, police arrested Robert Carter, 26, the father of one of the grandchildren, after they noticed he had burns and bandages at the children’s funeral.
During questioning, Carter, of Brenham, Texas, admitted he committed the murders and set the house ablaze. Pressed to name an accomplice, Carter pointed to Anthony Graves, 26, a cousin of his wife, Theresa Carter.
On August, 22, 1992, Graves was taken into custody. Carter went before a Burleson County grand jury and recanted, saying that Graves was not involved in the murders. However, two members of law enforcement told the grand jury that they heard Graves implicate himself in the crime while in his cell.
Graves and Carter and Carter’s wife were indicted for the murders.
Carter was tried and convicted in February 1994. He was sentenced to death.
Graves, also of Brenham, went on trial in October 1994. On October 21, immediately before the trial, Carter met with the prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, and said that he alone committed the crime—that Graves was not involved.
When Sebesta said he didn’t believe him because the evidence suggested multiple people were involved, Carter then said he had committed the crime with Graves and someone named “Red.” When Sebesta suggested that “Red” was Carter’s wife, Cookie, Carter denied it and offered to take a polygraph exam.
After the polygraph examiner said Carter exhibited deception, Carter changed his story again—saying he had invented “Red.” Later, he admitted that his wife was sometimes called “Red.”
At the time, Sebesta was working on a deal that would require Carter to testify against both his wife and Graves in return for a life sentence if his death sentence were reversed on appeal.
By the following morning, October 22, 1994, Carter refused to testify against his wife. So the deal was modified—Carter would not be asked any questions about his wife.
At the trial, Carter testified that he had committed the crime with Graves. He testified they went to Davis’s home because Graves was upset that Bobbie Davis had gotten a job promotion that Graves believed should have gone to his mother. At the time, Carter said he went to the door and spoke with Davis, then said he had to get something from his car. When he got to the car, Carter said, Graves went inside.
Carter said he went into the house not long after and found a bloody scene—Davis was dead and so were the grandchildren. Carter said he found Davis’s daughter in a room and shot her five times.
The prosecution presented a knife that was similar to one once owned by Graves. A prosecution witness testified that the knife blade fit exactly into the wounds on the victims. Sebesta said the blade “fit like a glove.”
Family members testified that Graves was in his mother’s home in Brenham on the night of the crime.
On November 1, 1994, a jury convicted Graves and he was sentenced to death.
Murder charges against Carter’s wife were eventually dismissed and never pursued.
Graves continued to fight to prove his innocence, but his appeals were denied.
On January 13, 1995, he was granted a post-conviction hearing on a motion for new trial contending that one of his alibi witnesses had declined to testify at the trial after Sebesta threatened to indict her for the murders if she testified. The motion, however, was denied.
On April 23, 1997, Graves’ conviction and sentence were upheld by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.
Later in 1997, Graves was granted another post-conviction hearing. An expert witness testified that the testimony regarding a knife at Graves’ trial was misleading. At the trial, a prosecution witness said tests showed that a knife that was similar to one once owned by Graves could have made the wounds inflicted on the victims. Dr. Harrell Gill-King, director of the Laboratory of Forensic Anthropology and Human Identification, testified that the prosecution conclusions about the knife were unreliable.
The motion for new trial was denied.
Carter continued to insist that Graves was innocent. Graves obtained a post-trial hearing on the recantations, but on February 3, 2000, the motion was denied.
On May 1, 2000, Carter was executed. His final words from the gurney were that Graves was innocent and that he had lied in court.
With his state appeals exhausted, Graves filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in U.S. District Court. On March 3, 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit set aside Graves’ conviction and sentence, ruling that Sebesta had failed to provide exculpatory evidence—including Carter’s many contradictory statements—to Graves’ defense lawyers.
Washington-Burleson County District Attorney Bill Parham then appointed veteran prosecutor Kelly Siegler and investigator Otto Hanak to retry the case. After conducting a lengthy re-investigation of the case, Siegler and Hanak concluded that Graves was innocent, and that Sebesta, who retired in 2000, had misled jurors, manufactured evidence, elicited false testimony and concealed evidence of Graves’s innocence. On Oct. 27, 2010, the charges were dismissed and Graves was released from prison.
As of 2012, Graves had received $1,504,747 in state compensation.
– Maurice Possley