Exonerated Man Tells Legislature: Repeal Death Penalty

Houston lawmaker who authored bill acknowledges that it has little chance of passing

A man who spent 18 years on death row before a court exonerated him begged the Texas Legislature on Monday to repeal the death penalty.

Anthony Graves made his appeal to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which was considering a bill to stop executions in Texas.

"You tried to execute me twice for a crime that I knew nothing about," Graves told lawmakers. "You not only put me on death row, you put my family on death row, you put my children on death row ... and my children grew up without me."

Graves spent 18 years in prison before he was cleared by DNA evidence. The state gave him two execution dates before he was finally cleared and on Monday he pleaded with the lawmakers to end the death penalty.

"There are innocent men, mentally challenged men, insane men on death row, and you want to execute them," he added. "As long as we continue with this death penalty, as long as we don't get serious about it, you're going to continue to execute innocent people and you are going to call it justice."

Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, authored the bill, but she acknowledged it had little chance of passing.

"Every time we bring this up we get a bit closer to seeing this become a reality in Texas," Farrar said. "In the past six years, six states have done away with the death penalty."

She said it is an arbitrary system in Texas because district attorneys decide who will face the penalty. Half of the counties in Texas have not pursued the death penalty because the cases are so expensive, she added.

Texas courts have exonerated 12 men after juries sentenced them to death row. Texas has one of the highest exoneration rates in the country.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, told Graves that there are people who commit crimes that deserve the death penalty.

"We may disagree with whether we should get rid of the death penalty, but I want you to know that I wholeheartedly agree and endorse what you are saying, that we don't need to be executing innocent people," he said. "Our compensation to you will never be enough."

Farrar also laid out a House version of a bill that would repeal an overturned law that makes homosexual conduct illegal. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee has already approved the measure, which the State Bar of Texas says is important to put Texas law in alignments with a 2003 Supreme Court ruling that the law is unconstitutional.

The Legislature outlawed homosexual activity in 1973, but when a Houston man was charged with sodomy he appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court declared the law unconstitutional in a landmark ruling that overturned all of the nation's sodomy laws. Repeated efforts to repeal the law have failed in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Only Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have kept the anti-homosexual measures on the books.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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