Ninety-nine percent of the prosecutors I’ve known over my 24 years practicing law have been honest and hard-working folks and always disclosed exculpatory evidence. This one was not. Former Burleson County DA, Charles Sebesta, withheld material and exculpatory evidence from a capital murder defendant on trial for his life. It cost the man over 18 years of freedom. A recent article in Texas Monthly Magazinewondered why Sebesta had never been prosecuted for withholding exculpatory evidence and deliberately misleading the jury to convict. If I may, let’s allow the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to do the talking for the moment.
In 1994, Anthony Graves was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he denied committing. To secure the conviction and death sentence, Sebesta relied upon the testimony of a co-defendant, Robert Earl Carter. The night before Carter testified he told Sebesta “I did it all myself, Mr. Sebesta, I did it all myself.” Sebesta failed to reveal this to the defense. Furthermore, Sebesta failed to disclose that Carter had implicated his wife “Cookie” in the murders. The 5th Circuit concluded this implication was also material and exculpatory. To top this, during Carter’s jury trial testimony Sebesta deliberately elicited testimony from Carter (and chief investigating officer, Ranger Coffman) that Sebesta knew was false. This testimony was designed to affirmatively lead the jury to believe Robert Earl Carter. Specifically, Sebesta asked Carter and Coffman to confirm that Carter had always implicated Graves as being involved in committing the murders. Sebesta knew this was a lie. Consequently, the 5th Circuit granted Graves’ writ of habeas corpus and ordered a new trial. In 2010 the charges against Anthony Graves were dismissed.
Sebesta never paid a price for cheating. Whether Graves was guilty or innocent was never the point. Sebesta deceptively manipulated the system by withholding exculpatory evidence to achieve his objectives. The 5th Circuit found this was true. However, the Texas State Bar determined the statute of limitations had expired on claims against Sebesta and refused to discipline him. Sebesta still has a law license. Sebesta continues to teach seminars through the Sheriff’s Association of Texas. Sebesta continues to proudly state on his website “There was never any ‘prosecutorial misconduct’ on my part, not then and not now.”
I wish one of the hard-working 99% could figure a way to prosecute the prosecutor. Kind of the way they come after regular citizens . . . with a vengence. It would be the only fair thing to do.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.