Michael Morton in the middle
State District Judge Louis Sturns of Tarrant County will lead a court of inquiry into complaints of prosecutorial misconduct against former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson, who won a murder conviction in 1987 against a defendant who spent 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence.
Michael Morton was convicted of fatally beating his wife in their Austin home in 1986. Attorneys say the wrongful conviction would not have happened if Anderson, who is now a Williamson County state district judge, had not deliberately withheld evidence that indicated Morton’s innocence.
“This is a historic moment for Texas justice,” said John Raley, the Houston lawyer who has worked pro bono on Morton’s case for seven years. “We are confident that Judge Sturns will handle this important case with the seriousness and probity demonstrated by Judge [Sid] Harle and [Texas Supreme Court Chief] Justice [Wallace] Jefferson…”
Last week, Harle recommended that Jefferson appoint such a court after he decided that there was probable cause to believe that Anderson should face charges of contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records…
Morton contended during his 1987 trial that his wife’s killer must have entered their home after he left for work about 5:30 a.m. Anderson told the jury that Morton, who had no criminal history, beat his wife to death in a perverted rage because she denied him sex. Meanwhile, Morton’s lawyers say, Anderson was concealing evidence that pointed to the very scenario Morton described.
Morton was sentenced to life in prison but continued to maintain his innocence. Starting in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a collection of evidence, including a bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley fought the request for DNA testing, based on advice from Anderson. In 2010, though, a Texas court ordered the testing. The results showed Christine Morton’s blood on the bandanna mixed with the DNA of Mark A. Norwood, a felon who lived near the Mortons at the time.
A Williamson County grand jury indicted Norwood this month. Norwood’s DNA has also been identified on a pubic hair found at the scene of the similar murder in 1988 in Austin…
The Innocence Project probably could spend all their time in Texas and Illinois – and that would cover 99% of those convicted illegally of violent crimes. Do we have any states left where the justice system considers protecting the innocent as important as getting a high conviction rate?