Texas Justice at its Worst
  by  Molly Ivins
 AUSTIN -- Well, isn't that special?
The governor has granted a 30-day stay to a man on death row so we
can figure out from DNA  evidence whether the guy should be on Death Row.
Which he may well be, but it'll be nice to be certain for a change.
It took Bush only 131 executions to find a case where he thought there might be
some doubt about the matter. No, I take that back. He did once grant a pardon:
He had to.

That was memorable case of Henry Lee Lucas, the serial liar, who confessed
to 150 murders before our brighter law enforcement minds started to wonder
if he was telling the truth.

The impeccable Texas criminal justice system -- about which the governor is
so certain he has repeatedly said he has never had a shred a doubt about any
of the 131 executions on his watch -- managed to convict Lucas of a murder
that rather demonstrably occurred while Lucas was in another state entirely.

It is particularly entertaining to watch Bush on national television solemnly
explaining that those on Texas' Death Row have "full access to the courts."
They do?

Then why did the Court of Criminal Appeals throw out Ricky McGinn's
request for new DNA testing two days before his scheduled execution?
Why does it take a 30-day stay from the governor to get DNA evidence examined?

Because, may I suggest, those on Death Row in Texas do NOT have full access
to the courts, or anything like it. When the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers
Association started its own Innocence Project -- modelled after Barry Scheck's
effective New York legal operation that has now proved the innocence of almost
100 men and women, some on Death Row -- two people whose names you may
recall from the past were present, Randall Dale Adams and Clarence Brandly.
Neither one of whom would be alive today if the current rules limiting access
to the courts had been effect when their painfully questionable convictions
were finally overturned.

To my mind, the McGinn case is not nearly as questionable as another execution
that took place on Wednesday that may well have destroyed the last chance of
another man who may be innocent. Read this one and see what you think.

A prison guard named Robert Carter ran amok in 1992 in Somerville, stabbing,
shooting and burning six family members including his 4-year-old son from
a previous relationship.

At one point, Carter claimed that Anthony Graves, a cousin of his wife, did most
of the killing that night. Carter attempted to retract his charge against Graves early on,
but wound up testifying against him after receiving his own death sentence in 1994.
Carter insisted in a deposition given last month that he had tried to exonerate Graves
in the past and that the reason he lied was because authorities pressured him to name
an accomplice and threatened to prosecute his wife, Theresa. There is a videotape of
him making the same statement in 1997. Carter wrote Graves' lawyer at least nine times
over the years telling of Graves' innocence.

At his execution last week, six members of the victims' family were present.
Carter, strapped to the gurney, said, "I'm sorry for all the pain I've caused your family.
It was me and me alone. Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it. I lied on him
in court."

Graves has two witnesses that could testify to his location the night of the incident:
his brother, Arthur, and girlfriend, Yolanda Mathis. Arthur testified at the trial.
But Mathis, the only true alibi, said she was afraid to testify because she felt she
had been threatened with prosecution. During the trial, she literally went running
from the courthouse just before she was to testify.

The forensic evidence against Graves is "ridiculous trash," according to his appeals
lawyer, Roy Greenwood. But since the testimony of a accomplice is so powerful,
said Greenwood, without Carter there to retract in person, Graves' chances are less.

The Court of Appeals, which is rapidly becoming a misnomer, did grant a hearing in
the case but did not consider Carter's recantation. The matter is now in a federal court
in Galveston. But we're coming right along here in Texas on the criminal justice front.

Many people thought that when two of three defendants in the Jasper dragging case
were given the death penalty it was first time ever in Texas white people had been given
death for killing a black. Actually, those were the second and third times that has happened.

And if that didn't make you proud to be a Texan, what would?

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