TX AG Abbott Has Power to Relieve Child Support Burdens of Wrongly Convicted, but Refuses

I thought so.

Just a few days ago I did a piece on Anthony Graves, the Texas man who did 17 years behind bars, much of it on death row, for a murder prosecutors knew when they tried him he hadn’t committed.  Just to add insult to injury, the State of Texas is now refusing to pay him the compensation it clearly owes him for his wrongful conviction.  Worse still, super tough guy Attorney General Gregg Abbott is garnishing Graves’s paycheck for past child support and interest all accrued while he was wrongfully imprisoned courtesy of the State of Texas.

I speculated that Abbott had it in his power to waive Graves’s child support obligation and it turns out I was right.

Here’s what Texas attorney and State Representative Harold Dutton says about that in another similar case.

Dutton said the attorney general has the authority to lift Brandley’s payments.

“I think someone should apply some common sense, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in the attorney general’s office,” Dutton said.

The “Brandley” referred to is Clarence Brandley and if you think Anthony Graves has problems, he’s in hog heaven compared to Brandley.  Read about it here (Houston Chronicle, 5/7/11).

Clarence Brandley was once a sort of celebrity in Southeast Texas.  He won that renown for being the victim in one of the worst cases of railroading a man into prison in the state’s history, and that’s saying something.  Remember, we’re talking about Texas.

Back in the 1970s, a 16-year-old girl was killed at her high school in Conroe about 50 miles north of Houston.  Brandley was a janitor there and immediately became the county’s prime suspect.  That had nothing to do with his involvement in the crime which was nil and a lot to do with his race which is African-American.

Brandley was duly convicted on the shakiest of evidence including perjured testimony and sentenced to die.  He spent years on death row, but his family never believed he was guilty and attorneys eventually proved it.  Here’s how the judge hearing his appeal described the state’s conviction of Brandley.

In 30 years on the bench, “… No case has presented a more shocking scenario of the effects of racial prejudice, perjured testimony, witness intimidation (and) an investigation the outcome of which has been predetermined,” state District Judge Perry Picket wrote about Brandley’s case after a hearing in 1987.

That again is saying something.  After all, Montgomery County that convicted Clarence Brandley borders on San Jacinto County whose sheriff throughout the 1970s and 1980s was renowned for waterboarding suspects.  So Pickett’s statement carries a little weight.

Brandley was eventually exonerated and is today a free man, but that came long before the law providing compensation for innocent people convicted by the state.

Just like Graves, Brandley owes child support and he did back in the 1990s.  And just like Graves, he owes child support and interest solely because he was in prison.  Remember, he first went inside in 1977.  He’s now 59.  His “children” for whom he’s paying are 39 and 35.

And his lawyer back in the day, was Harold Dutton, who, in 2007, introduced a bill in the legislature to require the state to make child support payments for any father it wrongly convicts and sends to jail.  The bill passed and was enacted into law, which is why Harold Dutton says Gregg Abbott can relieve Clarence Brandley of his payments any time he wants to.

Of course he can do the same for Anthony Graves, but he’s refusing to do so.

Now, Graves only owes about $5,000, so he’s not to badly off.  Brandley’s another story.  Brandley is one of those unfortunates who’s caught in the low payment/high interest bind.  He’s been paying almost every year since his release from prison, but in 2008, he got laid off.

He sold everything he owns and moved in with relatives.  He’s essentially penniless, and the support, interest and fees just keep building up and up.  The state sends him notices, but

“I just tear them up,” said Brandley, who has lost nearly everything he owns.

He currently owes over $12,000, but with no job, the amount keeps going up.

Court records show that at one point Brandley’s court-ordered monthly payments of $130 failed to cover interest payments that reached $357 per month. His debt was growing at a faster rate than his payments.

A state district judge in 2003 reduced the total to $22,000 from $73,000, attorney general’s office spokesman Jerry Strickland said. That figure was still more than triple the $7,000 in back child support Brandley owed at the time of his arrest in 1980, court documents show.

So Brandley was paying when he was arrested in 1977.  He fell behind in prison for obvious reasons.  By 2003, he had paid for 13 years since his release and his indebtedness was triple what he owed in child support when he was arrested.  And his children have been adults for almost two decades.

In short, Brandley has paid more than he’s ever owed in child support.  If all he had been required to pay was support, he’d have been free of the burden long ago.  So, in effect, he’s bankrupt and imposing on relatives because of the interest charged by the state that wrongly convicted him and sent him away so he couldn’t pay.  His inability to pay meant he incurred the interest.

Add to that the fact that Texas has a law requiring the state to pick up the payments for those parents it wrongly convicts, but refuses to honor that obligation to Clarence Brandley, and you have a situation that cries out for someone with the power to do so to just say “Enough!”

That person of course is Gregg Abbott, which means Brandley can likely expect to be jailed again soon.


Thanks to John for the heads up.

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