Christine Morton was attacked and killed at her home on August 12, 1985. Although her husband Michael Morton was at work at the time, authorities suspected him, and he was later charged and convicted for the murder. Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for this wrongful conviction.
Fortunately, a few years ago, a group of attorneys, working pro bono on Morton’s behalf, managed to discover DNA evidence that later exonerated Morton. Morton was not only found to be innocent, but the prosecutor (and now judge) in his case, Ken Anderson, was accused of withholding exculpatory evidence. Anderson was later criminally charged for this act.
The exculpatory evidence that was withheld by Anderson was a bandana. When tested, the bandana contained Christine Morton’s blood and hair and the DNA of a man named Mark Norwood. Norwood was later convicted of Christine Morton’s death.
Morton was freed in October 2011 when he was 57 years old. Morton spoke out and said, “I thank God this wasn’t a capital case.”
Last month, Anderson, the prosecutor in Morton’s case, pleaded no contest to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence. Anderson stepped down from his position as a judge and agreed to 10 days in jail, serving only 5 of those days. In addition, Anderson agreed to a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service, and the loss of his law license.
In court, Anderson said he couldn’t remember details of Morton’s case and said the following, “I apologize that the system screwed up. I’ve beaten myself up on what I could have done different and I don’t know.”
What could he have done different? Well for one, he could have gave Michael Morton a fair and just trial by including all evidence in his possession (i.e. the bandana) because each and every criminal defendant has a constitutional right to such a trial. The behavior on behalf of the prosecutor in this case was highly prejudicial and irreversibly damaging to an innocent person. Morton has lost 25 years of his youth because of the unethical behavior of a former prosecutor who wanted a conviction more than the truth.
This year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed the Michael Morton Act into law. This Act requires prosecutors to turn evidence over to defense lawyers in criminal cases, upon the defendant’s request, without the need for a court order. I am in complete agreement with Gov. Rick Perry that this law will make the state’s criminal justice system “fairer and helping prevent wrongful convictions.”