Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry has waded into the controversy surrounding a man wrongly imprisoned for 18 years who was denied compensation for his ordeal this week because state authorities failed to close a legal loophole.
Perry said Tuesday in comments reported by The Houston Chronicle's Harvey Rice that he will do what is within his power to "get this individual the appropriate reimbursement for years that he has spent incarcerated for something that he did not do." Perry said he will try to influence the comptroller's office, which ruled that Anthony Graves was not eligible for the $1.4 million in compensation from the state because the order dismissing his charges did not contain the words "actual innocence."
Under a 2009 law, the state can pay out $80,000 per year to incarcerated claimants explicitly found innocent in a retrial or who are granted a pardon. Neither status now applies to Graves.
One of Perry's former lawyers, Jeff Blackburn, told Rice that Graves' legal team may try to sue the comptroller's office in federal court to get the decision reviewed. He said Perry's support will boost Graves' chances of getting compensated.
But Cory Session, the policy director for the Innocence Project of Texas, told The Lookout he doubts that tactic would be successful. He said that if the comptroller's office agreed to compensate Graves without an explicit order of innocence from a judge, that action could open the door for suspects who had been detained over charges that were later dropped to sue for the time they spent in jail awaiting trial. "It would open up a floodgate," he said.
Perry can't pardon Graves because he is no longer convicted of any crime--and a pardon from the governor is the only other way Graves would be eligible for the money. If Graves sues the state of Texas for civil damages, the most he could recover would be $200,000, under the caps enacted by state tort laws.
District Judge Reva Towslee Corbett could still amend Graves' order of release and add the words "actual innocence" so that Graves would qualify for the compensation. But Graves told The Houston Chronicle he thinks the judge is biased against him and wouldn't do that. Burleson District Attorney Bill Parham, who says he thinks Graves is innocent, ignored pleas from Graves' lawyers to add "actual innocence" to the order in the 15-day legal window after the judge handed down his decision.