In 1994, Anthony Graves was convicted of six murders that he did not commit. He spent 18 years in prison, 12 of them on death row, and he fully expected never to see the outside world again—until attorney and journalism professor Nicole Cásarez stepped in.
Cásarez, BJ ’76, JD ’79, Life Member, and her students at the University of St. Thomas in Houston fought Graves’ case for eight years. In 2010, he was set free.
How do you thank someone who gave you back a life you thought was gone forever?
As Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff reported yesterday, Graves knew that Cásarez, now a close friend whom he calls his “angel,” would never accept money, but he still found a way.
With a portion of the $1.45 million he was awarded as compensation for his wrongful conviction, Graves decided to endow a scholarship in Cásarez’s name at UT’s School of Law, her alma mater. He worked with the law school’s development staff and Cásarez’s husband, Rueben, JD ’79, to arrange the endowment in secret, as a surprise for her.
As Colloff movingly recounts, Graves presented Cásarez with a plaque announcing the scholarship at a dinner party last weekend. Graves intended the scholarship, the plaque read, “to honor his defender, friend, sister, and angel, to recognize her and her students’ work to exonerate him from a wrongful conviction, and to encourage others to follow her example of hope, perseverance, courage, and humility.”
When we reached her on the phone this morning, Cásarez sounded giddy about the news.
“I’m still speechless, honestly,” she laughed. “I’m stunned. Anthony is an amazing person and an amazing friend.”
According to law school communications coordinator Samantha Youngblood, the school hopes to award the first scholarship next fall to a deserving UT Law student.
“Anthony wants to make sure what happened to him doesn’t happen to anyone else,” Cásarez said, “and he thinks the best way to do that is by making sure there will always be lawyers out there who will fight cases like his.”
Anthony Graves and Nicole Cásarez. Photo by Rueben Cásarez.