We know that in the last ten years, 45 Texas inmates have been exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence and that is something to be grateful for. The notion of innocent men and women being held in confinement for crimes they did not commit is excruciating.
Another inmate joined the ranks of those freed from a Texas jail last week. Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife Christine in 1986. He was a grocery store manager who had no criminal record, nonetheless, he was found guilty of beating his wife to death and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2005 Mr. Morton attempted to have evidence tested to determine if DNA was present, namely a blue bandanna found near his home after the murder. For six years the district attorney fought Morton’s attempts based on the advice of the original prosecutor, Ken Anderson, who was now Judge Anderson.
In 2010 a Texas court ordered DNA testing on the bandanna and found that Christine Morton’s blood was on the bandanna mixed with the DNA of Mark Norwood, a convicted felon with a long criminal history, who lived twelve miles from the Morton home. Norwood was charged with Christine Morton’s murder.
Morton is now free and that’s the end of the story? Not quite. Mr. Morton, aided by Barry Scheck of New York’s Innocence Project, is seeking a “court of inquiry” to determine what role prosecutorial malfeasance played in Mr. Morton’s wrongful conviction.
The issue is whether there is probable cause to believe that prosecutor Anderson, now Judge Anderson, withheld reports that the trial judge ordered him to release. Apparently, Mr. Anderson provided some documents to the trial judge who found nothing exculpatory in their contents.
More recently, a new judge ordered the Morton file unsealed, which led to the discovery that many documents had not been produced by prosecutor Anderson. A transcript of a telephone call between an investigator and Christine’s mother, in which she reported that her three-year-old grandson reported that a “monster”, not his father, attacked and killed his mother, had not previously been disclosed.
Also undisclosed were police reports from the Morton’s neighbours reporting the presence of a man in a green van repeatedly parking near their home and seen walking into the woods behind their home. Other reports withheld included evidence that Christine Morton’s credit card had been used after her murder and a check with her signature forged had been cashed.
Judge Anderson, who was deposed as part of the inquiry, recalled few details of the case and asserted he did nothing wrong. He did, however, feel sick that Mr. Morton had spent 25 years in prison.
Experts who have reviewed the case doubt that Judge Anderson will face serious punishment or disbarment as a result of his actions. They cite a recent decision where Lousiana prosector, Harry Connick Sr. (yes, father of the crooner) was relieved from a $14 million dollar civil judgment for his failure to disclose evidence that ultimately led to an accused’s exoneration.
Innocence Project director and OJ Simpson DNA specialist, Barry Scheck realizes that the length of time between conviction and exoneration may work against them, however, he hopes for changes in law and policy that will prevent the reoccurence of wrongful convictions based on the concealment of exculpatory evidence.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang