The State Bar of Texas has opened an investigation into Charles Sebesta, the former Burleson County District Attorney who prosecuted death row exoneree Anthony Graves.
The organization that oversees lawyers is investigating alleged professional misconduct by Sebesta, which, if proven, could result in his disbarment. The investigation was prompted by a complaint that Graves filed in January. Sebesta will have 30 days to file a response to the complaint.
“It sets a precedent for other state prosecutors that they have to act ethically,” said Ramota Otulana, a clerk at the law firm that represents Graves.
Graves spent 18 years behind bars — 12 of them on death row, where he twice neared execution — before the U.S. 5th Circuit of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2006, ruling that Sebesta had used false testimony and withheld favorable evidence in the case.
State Bar officials have said the previous complaint was dismissed because the statute of limitations on the alleged violations had expired. In 2013, lawmakers approved Senate Bill 825, which changed the statute of limitations, allowing a wrongfully imprisoned person to file a grievance up to four years after their release from prison in cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Previously, the four-year statute began on the date the misconduct was discovered.
State Sens. Rodney Ellis and John Whitmire, and state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, all Houston Democrats, joined Graves in calling for accountability for Sebesta at a Wednesday press conference.
“I’m asking prosecutors to cooperate with the highest of integrity,” Graves told reporters in January. “It took me 18 and a half years to get back home. Two execution dates. All because a man abused his position.”