BY BRANDON DOYLE & SYDNEY NORMIL
MARCH 5, 2012
They read him his rights before stripping him of them.
“They say forgive them for they know not what they do. I’ve forgiven them and I’ve moved on, but I do think they knew what they were doing,” said Anthony Graves, the 138th person exonerated from death row in the U.S. since 2010. “I was just a young black man caught up in a racist white criminal justice system. Race is a major factor in why I lost my freedom,” he added.
On August 22, 1992, in Brenham Texas, Graves was taken into custody for a crime committed in an adjacent town Somerville. Graves was the suspected accomplice for the murders of two adults, and 4 children in a home that was set on fire following the killings. In 1994 he was found guilty of capital murder.
There are thirty-four states with the death penalty and the Death Penalty Information Center reports that 1,283 people have been executed in the U.S. since 1977. To this date, out of the 140 people exonerated from death row, 77 of them were black. For the past four years John Mills, president of the Law Office of John R. Mills in North Carolina, has conducted the appeals of death row inmates like Graves.
“The death penalty is brutalizing to those subject to it… and is corrosive to our society. I suspect that it won’t be abolished in our country in my lifetime, but I think states are beginning to question whether or not [the death penalty] is a sound decision,” said Mills.
The North Carolina Racial Justice Act was the first law passed by a state that aims to eliminate racial bias regarding the death penalty. The law that was passed in 2009 allows death row inmates to reduce their sentences to life without parole if racial bias can be proved in their initial sentencing or jury selection.
Graves spent 12 years on death row and a total of 18 years incarcerated for a crime that did not provide any physical evidence that proved his involvement.
“There’s an 18 year void in my life when it comes to my children, my mother, and the rest of my family. You can never give me that back,” said Graves.