innocence blog

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Questions Arise on Who's Who in Graves Case

This article appeared in the Houston Chronicle on October 14, 2006:

Questions arise on who's who in Graves case
Several officials in murder case retrial have links to first trial that some say could seem unfair

By HARVEY RICE
Houston Chronicle

Supporters of Anthony Graves are worried about the connections between officials at his 1994 capital murder trial and a retrial ordered after an appeals court threw out his conviction and death sentence.
Graves is being retried in rural Burleson County in the 1992 slayings of a woman and five children because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that prosecutors withheld statements from the defense.
No date has been set for the retrial, but Graves' supporters are sounding alarms about court officials in the retrial who are connected among themselves and to the first trial.
"It certainly lends itself to the perception that the trial participants will be more concerned with vindicating themselves or their family members than they will with truth or justice," said Michael Ware, spokesman for the Innocence Project of Texas.
Three law professors found no ethical problems in the relationships, but two of those professors said that so many connections might create an appearance of unfairness.
The officials and their connections:
•The presiding judge in the retrial, Reva Towslee-Corbett, is the daughter of Harold Towslee, the judge who presided over the 1994 trial.•Assistant District Attorney Joan Scoggins, who will be assisting District Attorney Renee Ann Mueller, was a member of the team that prosecuted Graves in 1994. The 5th Circuit Court said prosecutors withheld two key statements from the defense, including a statement by Robert Carter, executed in 2000 for the slayings.Carter, whose testimony convicted Graves, told prosecutors that he alone was responsible for the slayings. Moments before his execution, he again said that Graves was innocent.
•Mueller was not on the prosecution's team, but was an assistant DA for Burleson County during the 1994 trial.•The head of courtroom security for the retrial, E.K. Murray, was an investigator in the Graves case for the district attorney's office during the 1994 trial. The then-district attorney who prosecuted Graves in 1994, Charles Sebesta, testified that Murray was present when Carter made a statement the 5th Circuit Court said was kept from the defense.Murray, a potential witness, was present during a conference call among the judge and attorneys last month, according to a transcript of the hearing.
•The court reporter for the retrial, Carolee Murray, also was court reporter for the 1994 trial. She is married to E.K. Murray.Towslee-Corbett has imposed a gag order preventing prosecutors or defense attorneys from commenting. The judge declined comment, saying she is bound by her own order.
Law professors found no ethical problems with the relationships. Michael Scharlot, professor at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, was the only professor with reservations about the judge. "Asking the daughter of a former judge to reach different conclusions from her dad would be troubling, very troubling," he said.

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