Anthony Graves, who spent 18 years in prison–12 of them on death row–for murder before he was exonerated in 2010, wanted to use some of his $1.45 million settlement to repay Nicole Cásarez, the Houston attorney and journalism professor who spent eight years working for his freedom. But he knew it would be tough to convince her to take a gift from him.
“I wanted to repay Nicole but I knew she’d never accept money from me,” Graves told TheTexas Monthly's Pamela Colloff, who wrote an excellent 2010 feature about Graves’ case. “I thought about giving her an amazing trip somewhere, but I wanted to give her something that would live on.”
Graves spoke with Cásarez’s husband, Rueben, and hatched a scheme. “The whole thing had to be secret,” Graves said. “I knew Nicole would try to talk me out of it if she knew what I was going to do.”
Anthony invited some of their friends and family for a dinner at a Houston restaurant, under the guise of a going-away party for himself. Before the meal started, Graves gave a speech and asked Cásarez to come forward. From the Texas Monthly:
Tentatively, she rose from her seat and walked over to Anthony, who handed her a framed certificate. Her jaw dropped when she saw it, and she covered her mouth in surprise. “You’ve been punked!” Anthony said, laughing uproariously. Finally, after he egged her on, she agreed to read the words out loud:
The University of Texas Law School Foundation Gratefully Acknowledges the
NICOLE B. CÁSAREZ ENDOWED SCHOLARSHIP IN LAW
Established in 2013 with a gift from Anthony Graves 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.
“Never underestimate the power of dedicated people working for good.”
Cásarez was near tears as she read the certificate, as were many others at the dinner. “The students have some very big shoes to fill,” Graves told Colloff. “Nicole exemplifies what everyone should try to be—someone who fights against injustice.”
[Image via AP]