“He said ‘You thought this dinner was about me, but it’s about you,’ ” Cásarez says.
Graves then told the audience that he was donating a portion of his $1.45 million wrongful-conviction award from the state to establish the Nicole B. Cásarez endowed scholarship in law at the University of Texas School of Law, her alma mater.
“I was totally overwhelmed,” Cásarez says, noting that she has been steadfast in her refusal to accept any money or gifts from Graves. He spent 18 years of his life, a dozen of them on death row, for a crime he didn’t commit. Cásarez’s work helped to convince the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn Graves' conviction in 2006.
“I was representing him pro bono. There is no way that I could financially benefit from him,” Cásarez says. “That just wasn’t in the picture.”
So, Graves came up with the idea a year and a half ago and worked with Cásarez’ husband, Rueben Cásarez, in secret to set up the UT Law scholarship. Rueben Cásarez, senior company counsel at Wells Fargo, approached UT Law school officials about the scholarship, and they agreed to set it up, says Rueben Cásarez.
“She wasn’t paid anything and never asked for expenses, and she’s never accepted any honoraria for talking about the case, and that frustrated Anthony,” Rueben Cásarez says.
“I decided that I wanted to something for Nicole, so other people could understand what she had done for me and for other people to do what she did. I wanted to create a legacy for her, so other people could fill her shoes,” Graves says. “When people like Nicole come across your life, you have to share that.”
--- John Council