Innocent Man Who Spent 25 Years in Prison Tries to Hold Prosecutor Accountable


This week Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, was officially exonerated by the state of Texas. Now he is seeking a "court of inquiry" to investigate Ken Anderson, the prosecutor who put him behind bars. Morton, with support from the Innocence Project, argues that Anderson, currently a state judge, improperly withheld exculpatory evidence. It's a long shot, since prosecutors are almost never held accountable for such malfeasance, but the details, described by The New York Times, are pretty damning:

Mr. Morton, who was a manager at an Austin supermarket and had no criminal history, was charged with the beating death of his wife, Christine, in 1986. He had contended that the killer must have entered their home after he left for work early in the morning. But Mr. Anderson convinced the jury that Mr. Morton, in a rage over his wife's romantic rebuff the previous night — on Mr. Morton's 32nd birthday — savagely beat her to death.

Mr. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Beginning in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.

For six years, the Williamson County district attorney, John Bradley, fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Judge Anderson, his predecessor and friend. In 2010, however, a Texas court ordered the DNA testing, and the results showed that Mrs. Morton's blood on the bandanna was mixed with the DNA of another man: Mark A. Norwood, a felon with a long criminal history who lived about 12 miles from the Mortons at the time of the murder. By then, Mr. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in prison.

Mr. Norwood has been arrested and charged in Mrs. Morton's death and is a suspect in a similar murder from 1988.

The DNA was not the only evidence pointing to someone else. In 1987 the judge overseeing Morton's trial ordered Anderson to turn over the prosecution's files so he could determine if they included information that would be helpful to the defense, which the Supreme Court has said must be shared as a matter of due process:

Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff's deputy and Mr. Morton's mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a "monster" — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.

Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton's neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton's credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.

In a deposition, Anderson said that his memory of the case's details is fuzzy but that he recalls interpreting the judge's order narrowly. Also, he feels bad about Morton's wrongful conviction. The Times adds that "experts are skeptical that Judge Anderson could face serious punishment or disbarment, even if the court were to decide that he had committed malfeasance." And because of prosecutorial immunity, civil liability is pretty much out of the question.

More on prosecutorial misconduct and the lack of accountability for it here, here, and here