A bill sits on Governor Rick Perry’s desk that would make it a little easier for those who were wrongfully convicted to collect compensation for the years they spent behind bars, serving time for something they didn’t do. Until then, there are a few different cases that have made headlines in the past month because of the struggles such freed men now face when trying to regain their life on the outside.
Anthony Graves was convicted of murdering a family in 1994. He spent 18 years in prison for the crimes, which ended the lives of a grandmother, daughter, and four grandchildren, before the courts determined his trial had been unfair and poorly prosecuted, and that the conviction should be overturned. Even after the conviction was overturned, however, he wasn’t released. He would serve an additional four years as the prosecutor attempted to put another case together to try him again.
In Graves’ case the conviction was based on the testimony of one witness, a man who was executed for his role in the murders. Though this man later told the then-prosecutor that Graves had nothing to do with it, that Burleson County District Attorney failed to notify Graves or his attorney about the recantation. After giving up on a new trial, a new District Attorney said publicly that Graves was innocent and he was released from prison.
Current law requires that someone be declared “actually innocent” by the court before they are entitled to compensation. Though Graves was exonerated and freed, no judge called him innocent. Therefore when he tried to collect on the $80,000 per year that he believed he was entitled to under the law, he was denied.
Another man, Clarence Lee Brandley, has been out of prison for more than twenty years. He was initially convicted of murdering a teenager when he was a custodian at a local high school. He was later granted a new trial because, the appeals court ruled, his case wasn’t even close to being fair. Prosecutors were forced to drop the charges eventually after determining they didn’t have enough evidence for the case, though they maintained he was guilty.
Brandley’s requests for compensation were similarly denied, because he wasn’t declared innocent by the courts. Though many years have passed and the state comptroller has told him he’s too late, Brandley still holds on to hope that he’ll one day be compensated.
Both men served time in state institutions in Texas for criminal offenses they likely didn’t commit. But because the court didn’t implicitly state that they were innocent upon their release, they might not receive a cent for their time behind bars.
Pending legislation would reportedly make it easier for men like Brandley and Graves to get the compensation they deserve . Graves is currently suing the state for what he believes is rightfully his, claiming the state injured his reputation over the 18 years he was locked up. He is also seeking relief from more than $30,000 in back child support that accumulated when he was behind bars, unable to pay.
Avoiding a conviction in the first place is obviously the best way to steer clear of the sort of headaches these two men are coping with. But tough cases can make for a rough road. Discussing the specifics of your case with a local defense lawyer can help you determine what options are available to you and what the likelihood is that you’ll be convicted at trial.