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Former Texas prosecutor disbarred for sending innocent man to death row

Charles Sebesta presented flawed testimony against Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison, 12 of them on death row

A Texas legal panel voted on Monday to disbar a former prosecutor, Charles Sebesta, for presenting tainted testimony and making false statements that undermined a defendant's alibi, helping send the man, Anthony Graves, to death row.

The Board of Disciplinary Appeals, appointed by the Texas Supreme Court, upheld a state licensing board's decision to disbar Sebesta for his conduct in convicting Graves, who spent 18 years in prison on charges of setting a fire that killed six people before being freed.

Graves, who spent 12 of those years on death row, sought to have Sebesta disbarred.

Sebesta prosecuted Robert Carter for the murders and tried to get him to say Graves was an accomplice. But the day before he was to testify, Carter told Sebesta he acted alone and Graves was not involved, according to the board. "Sebesta never disclosed this information to the defense," the board said. Sebesta then presented false testimony implicating Graves, which was crucial in his conviction, since there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime, according to the board.

Before Graves' attorney was to present a witness providing an alibi, Sebesta falsely stated in court that the witness was a suspect in the murders and could be indicted. The witness refused to testify and left the court, the board said.

Graves' conviction was reversed in 2006, and he was remanded for a new trial. In 2010, a special prosecutor found there was no credible evidence that Graves was involved in the murders, and he was released.

Sebesta said that he was being unfairly treated and that Graves was justly convicted. "I am concerned about the process," Sebesta said in a telephone interview, adding that he was being targeted by state bar attorneys. "My opinion is that we presented the evidence we had and felt like it was sufficient." 

Neal Manne, one of Graves' pro bono lawyers, applauded the decision. "In rejecting Sebesta's argument, the Board of Disciplinary Appeals found that Charles Sebesta's misconduct was so egregious that they characterized him as having 'unclean hands.' That certainly is a fitting description," said Manne.

A study this month said that U.S. exonerations hit a record high in 2015 as more prosecutors have been looking at troubled cases. The issue has gained additional attention with the release of the hit Netflix documentary series "Making a Murderer," which suggests authorities planted evidence against two Wisconsin men convicted of murder. The allegation has been rejected by local law enforcement.

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