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Prosecutor’s Capital-Case Disbarment Upheld

AUSTIN, Texas (CN) - A former Texas prosecutor was correctly disbarred for his role in the wrongful death sentence of a black man who was exonerated after spending 18 years in prison, 12 of them on death row, the Texas Supreme Court Board of Disciplinary Appeals ruled Monday.

In a 12-0 ruling that is not appealable, the board affirmed the disbarment of former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta.

The State Bar of Texas revoked Sebesta's law license in June 2015 after concluding he engaged in prosecutorial misconduct by withholding evidence as lead prosecutor in the murder conviction of Anthony Graves.

The board of appeals' Monday ruling called Sebesta's conduct "egregious" and said that "quasi-estoppel is not available to parties with unclean hands."

Sebesta is accused of failing to disclose to Graves' attorneys a confession by Robert Carter that he had murdered six people in 1992 alone.

Carter had implicated Graves but no physical evidence linked Graves to the murders.

Graves was released in 2010 and filed a disciplinary complaint against Sebesta four years later.

Sebesta argued in January that the State Bar decided in 2007 not to disbar him and that it cannot change its mind in pursuing Graves' complaint. He cited changes to disciplinary rules in 2004 that result in disciplinary findings now having a res judicata effect - that they cannot be adjudicated again.

The appeals board disagreed, saying the summary disposition panel that dismissed the accusations against Sebesta in 2007 has fewer investigatory tools than grievance committees before 2004, that did not have res judicata effect.

"The Summary Disposition Panel has no subpoena power to compel production of documents or to compel testimony; and it hears no witnesses," the Opinion and Judgment on Appeal states. "The pre-2004 grievance committees had subpoena power to gather documents and to require testimony; and they had the opportunity to hear and cross-examine witnesses under oath. The Summary Disposition Panel has fewer tools than the pre-2004 grievance committees to attempt any adjudication of merits, and the Summary Disposition Panel is not charged with any adjudicatory function."

The 2004 changes did not "transform the role of the screening entity into an adjudicatory body" with res judicata effect, the board said.

The board also concluded it is "not unconscionable" for a screening entity to reach one conclusion in 2007 and another in 2014. The latter included a 2010 affidavit from a special prosecutor stating his belief that there was no credible evidence of Graves' involvement in the murders.

Sebesta said Monday that he is still believes Graves was correctly convicted.

"My opinion is that we presented the evidence we had and felt like it was sufficient," Sebesta told Reuters.

Graves called it a "good day for justice."

"The bar stepped in to say that's not the way our criminal justice system should work," he told The Dallas Morning News.

Follow @davejourno
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