CBSN

Wrongfully convicted man's $1.5M fight continues

"48 Hours Mystery" told the compelling story Saturday of a man who spent the better part of two decades trying to get out of prison for a grisly crime he says he never committed.

Watch the full "48 Hours Mystery: Grave Injustice" episode now!

On "The Early Show" Monday, "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Richard Schlesinger said the man's battle is continuing.

Anthony Graves was convicted of killing six people, including four children. All were all members of the same family.

Graves spent 12 years on death row in Texas. He had two execution dates. Graves always said he didn't do it -- like most prisoners on death row. However, he actually didn't do it.

Late last year, after a lengthy investigation by a journalism class in Houston and an appellate court decision tossing out his conviction, prosecutors finally exonerated Graves and set him free.

Schlesinger reported Graves has waited for that moment since 1994, when a Texas jury said "guilty" six times.

But even though he finally walked out of prison last October, there's more to his story.

Graves says that, since he's been freed, he's "basically still relying on other people to help me, assist me, because right now you know, I have no money."

But, Schlesinger pointed out, Graves should have plenty of money -- about $1.5 million -- what Texas state law says 18 years of wrongful imprisonment is worth.

Graves told CBS News, "They stole 18 years of my life man for something I didn't even know anything about -- and they tried to murder me."

He'd at least have the money, Schlesinger said, if it weren't for a paperwork snafu. The prosecutor who dismissed the charges and set him free did not write that there was evidence of "actual innocence," and because he didn't use those two words, Graves doesn't get one penny.

"Two words, two words -- they're holding me hostage behind two words," Graves said. "They're holding my future hostage behind two words."

Should Graves be compensated? Let us know what you think on "The Early Show" Facebook page!

It really is that simple, Schlesinger said.

Prosecutors held a news conference and publicly exonerated Graves. At the time, District Attorney Bill Parham, of Washington County, Texas, said, "There's not a single thing that says Anthony Graves is involved in this case."

Parham, the case's prosecutor, cleared Graves in no uncertain terms. It's just the term they used was not "actual innocence."

So Graves, who paid a debt to society that the state now says he never owed, Schlesinger noted, has to wait and hope the state pays him a debt there's very little question IT now owes.

Graves said, "What if it was you, what if it was you? Would you want them to put red tape in the way of your justice?"

Schlesinger added the prosecutor who refuses to use the words "actual innocence" now says it's up to the state legislature to change the law. So the fight over those two very valuable words has become a finger-pointing game. And so far, Graves hasn't seen a cent.

On "The Early Show" Monday, Jeff Blackburn, Graves' attorney, said the issue with the money lies with the attorney general.

He explained, "The problem that we've got is that the attorney general, who's now the only person in the state that can say Anthony is truly innocent, just won't do that. And won't agree to it."

"Early Show" co-anchor Chris Wragge asked, "Why is that, though? Why is the Texas (attorney general) holding up this compensation? If, I mean we heard him say, there is no tie to Mr. Graves and the commission of this crime. So wherein lies the problem here?"

Blackburn said, "Well, you know, if you're from outside Texas, it makes no sense at all. But if you're from inside Texas, it makes perfect sense."

"We are a state that is very addicted to conviction," he said. "And we're, you know, as a state, we are, generally, at least a lot of the politicians here, are- - just can't get over the idea of locking people up and keeping them locked up. The attorney general in this case, Mr. Abbott, was- - had an office that was directly involved in trying to kill Anthony, in trying to keep this case going for a lot longer than it ever should have been. And now he just can't come out and say he was wrong. That's all it comes down to."

Wragge asked, "Is this basically what you're saying is the number of authorities in Houston, Texas, or in the State of Texas, basically just don't want to admit that they screwed this up?"

"That's pretty much it," Blackburn responded. "We had a good, courageous prosecutor who finally stood up and did the right thing. As you pointed out earlier, there was a technical language problem. But that language problem can be fixed, and we filed a lawsuit to get it fixed. The problem right now is the attorney general just won't do the right thing, and just can't get over the idea of saying, 'Anthony Graves is an innocent man.' That would mean he was wrong in aiding those local prosecutors in his prosecution to begin with."

But Blackburn isn't deterred in defending Graves in the compensation fight.

"We're going to win. Absolutely. One way or another," Blackburn said. "I mean, if we have to, we'll be able to -- we'll keep filing lawsuits and we'll keep fighting this case forever. I've been part of Anthony's legal team for years. And these lawyers are not going to give up. We're not going to back off. And eventually we'll win. But, in the meantime, we've got a very sad example of exactly how broken, sometimes, the criminal justice system can be when people just won't admit that they've done wrong."