Anthony Graves: Wrongfully Imprisoned, Now Target of Texas AG for Child Support

Ya gotta love Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott.  He likes to show off what a tough guy he is.  Often as not, that means jailing fathers who have no way of paying the child support obligations they’re saddled with. 

That’s when he’s not ignoring their rights to visitation which Abbott supposedly has a duty to help enforce.  But based on his expenditures for child support enforcement and those for visitation enforcement, I’d say he’s not much interested in the latter.  Last year I estimated, based on his own figures that his office spends over $270 million per year for child support enforcement versus a little over $500,000 for visitation, which gives us a good idea of his priorities.

Yes, Abbott’s quite a guy; he’s never met a man down he wouldn’t kick.  In this case though, he really outdoes himself even if he does have help (Dallas Morning News, 5/2/11).

It was just last November that Anthony Graves got a visit from a prison guard in his cell.  The guard didn’t tell Graves a thing; he just opened the cell door and led Graves out without even putting handcuffs on.  The two went to a room in the prison where one of Graves’s attorneys waited with the news that he was a free man.

For the first time in 18 years, Anthony Graves walked out of prison free.  Burleson County, Texas had sent him to death row in 1992 for a murder no serious observer believed he’d committed.  Graves had a solid alibi and, throughout his trial and his long ordeal behind bars, never ceased maintaining his innocence.

Late last year, the new Burleson County District Attorney and a special prosecutor said Graves was innocent and should be let go.  Here’s how Texas Monthly Magazine described it back then:

At a press conference at the D.A.”s office in Brenham–just across the street from the courthouse where Graves”s retrial was to have taken place early next year–(District Attorney Bill) Parham told reporters that he was “absolutely convinced’ of Graves”s innocence after his office conducted a thorough examination of his case. Parham was clear that this was not a matter of having insufficient evidence to take to trial; charges were not dropped because too many witnesses had died over the years or because the evidence had become degraded. “There”s not a single thing that says Anthony Graves was involved in this case,’ he said. “There is nothing.’ 

That was good news indeed; 18 years late, but good news all the same.

But that’s not all.  The State of Texas has a law that gives compensation to the wrongly convicted.  If a person is convicted who is actually innocent, the state pays him/her $80,000 for each year in prison.  In Graves’s case that would mean $1.44 million.

Enter State Comptroller Susan Combs, who’s refused to pay Graves a penny.  Why?  Well, it seems the judge who signed the order releasing Graves and dropping all charges against him at the request of the Burleson County DA, failed to include the magic words “actual innocence” in her order.  So, according to Combs, she has no authority to pay Graves what the state clearly owes.

Remember what DA Parham said.  “There is nothing,” to connect Graves to the crime.  When the county District Attorney says that, you know the guy is innocent, but the great State of Texas prefers to hide behind two words.

Where’s Gregg Abbott in all this?  If you think Susan Combs is being petty, you’re just not tuned in to Abbott’s wavelength.

Has Abbott used his considerable authority to go to bat for Anthony Graves?  Not once.  Has he stepped in to reopen the case and get the proper wording placed on Graves’s dismissal?  Nope.

What he has done is tag Graves with child support obligations he accrued during his time in prison.  That’s only a little over $5,000, but to a man who’s just gotten out of prison, it may as well be $5 million.  Graves apparently has a job and Abbott’s taking money out of his paycheck every week to pay down the support debt.

So yes the State of Texas put Anthony Graves in prison for a crime it knew at the time he didn’t commit.  And yes, it now owes him a nice chunk of change because it did so.  And yes, Graves owes child support solely because he was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

And tough guy Gregg Abbott’s only response to the whole sorry affair is to garnish the man’s paycheck for a debt he should never have have accrued in the first place.

No wait.  I tell a lie.  That’s not the only thing Abbott’s done.  It seems Graves got an invitation to speak at a college near Houston about his experience with the criminal justice system.  The college was so pleased to get Graves that it paid him a modest ($250) honorarium.

But Graves never got it.  Abbott garnished that too.  What’s next, his lunch money? 

Needless to say, Graves had better look out.  He’d better not fall behind on repaying his child support debt.  Gregg Abbott will put a man in jail for that.

Thanks to Don and John for the heads-up.

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