After surviving 18 years in prison and two death sentences, exonerated prisoner Anthony Graves encouraged students to change the system that imprisoned him.
The state accused Graves of taking part in the murder of two women and four children and setting their home on fire in 1992. The main witness in Graves’ trial, Robert Carter, was eventually executed for committing the murders. Before Carter’s execution, he admitted to lying under oath about Graves’ involvement. Graves was exonerated in October 2010.
“I am the walking example of the flaws of the death penalty because they tried to murder me twice,” Graves said in a lecture Thursday. “They can’t say Texas doesn’t execute innocents.”
Graves spoke about the flaws in the state’s criminal justice system to about 40 people Thursday. The Campaign to End the Death Penalty, a national grassroots organization, hosted the talk partially to address the race and class disparity of inmates.
“It’s an epidemic,” Graves said. “Not a black-and-white issue, not a minority issue. It’s an epidemic.”
Death penalty abolitionist Laura Brady compared the United States with Apartheid-era South Africa. From 1948 to 1993, South Africa incarcerated 851 black South Africans per 100,000 black residents. Five percent of the black population in the U.S., or 5,000 out of every 100,000 black residents, are inmates in the U.S., Brady said.
“So what does it mean when the leader of the free world locks up black men at a rate almost six times higher than the most openly racist country in our history?” Brady said. “More black men are in prison than attending college.”
Brady said more black men are in prison, on probation or on parole than the number subjected to slavery prior to the Civil War.
Lawrence Foster, who also spoke at the event, is the grandfather of death-row inmate Kenneth Foster. A judge sentenced Kenneth Foster to death for acting as an accomplice in a burglary that resulted in a man’s death. Foster is currently serving a life sentence after having his sentence commuted by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007.
“Just imagine the agony of an individual as he is waiting to get executed, as he is waiting to have his life extracted from him,” Foster said, “That’s not execution; that’s murder.”
Government lecturer Alan Sager said the death penalty deters crime.
“I used to not view the evidence this way,” Sager said. “However, as I saw the continuing studies over the years and an econometric study showing most death penalty studies reflect the bias of the researchers, my views have changed.”