Michael Morton (criminal justice)

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Michael Morton
Born (1954-08-12) August 12, 1954 (age 59)
Citizenship United States
Known for Miscarriage of justice
Criminal charge
Murder; 1987
Criminal status
Released; 2011
Spouse(s) Christine Morton, deceased; Cynthia May Chessman

Michael Morton (born August 12, 1954) is an American who was wrongfully convicted in 1987 in a Williamson County, Texas court of the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton.[1] He spent nearly 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence which supported his claim of innocence and pointed to the crime being committed by another individual. Morton was released from prison on October 4, 2011; the prosecutor was convicted of contempt of court for withholding evidence after the judge had ordered its release to the defense. [2][3]

Conviction, DNA testing and acquittal[edit]

Morton was arrested and charged with beating his wife to death in 1986. He was convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison.[4] Pro bono civil attorney John Raley of Houston, Texas, together with Nina Morrison of the New York based Innocence Project filed Morton's motion for DNA testing in February 2005. Raley and Morrison relentlessly sought a court order for DNA testing in state and federal courts until the testing was finally achieved in June, 2011.[4] Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley "tenaciously fought" DNA testing for six years before a judge finally ordered the tests.[5]

Release of Morton, conviction of Mark Alan Norwood[edit]

Morton was freed on October 4, 2011 (and formally acquitted by Bexar County District Judge Sid Harle on December 19, 2011)[6] after DNA tests linked another man, Mark Alan Norwood, to Christine Morton's murder. Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher who lived in Austin in the mid-1980s, was charged and, on March 27, 2013, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. He also is a suspect in the 1988 murder of Debra Baker in her Austin home. Both women were beaten to death in their beds.[4]

The Innocence Project subsequently filed a motion to remove Bradley from further court proceedings, but stopped pursuing it after Bradley agreed to dismiss the indictment against Morton, which allowed Morton to collect compensation. Under Texas law, he became eligible to receive a lump sum based on the amount of years served in prison, plus a lifetime annuity of $80,000 per year, as well as job training and educational aid.[7][8]

Arrest and imprisonment of prosecutor Ken Anderson[edit]

On November 16, 2011, Morton's original prosecutor, Ken Anderson, told reporters: "I want to formally apologize for the system's failure to Mr. Morton. In hindsight, the verdict was wrong." Baker's daughter said she was unmoved by Anderson's apology and held him partially responsible for her mother's death because he and investigators allowed a killer to escape detection by focusing so intently on Morton. "It's harder for me to hear him not holding himself accountable. He's not taking responsibility," she said.[9]

The same day as Morton's formal acquittal, Morton's attorneys (including Raley, Morrison, Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, and Gerald Goldstein and Cynthia Orr of San Antonio) asked Harle to order a "court of inquiry" into the actions of Anderson, who was then a district judge in Williamson County. A court of inquiry is a special court that investigates allegations of misconduct by elected officials in Texas.[6][10] Morton has accused Anderson of failing to provide defense lawyers with exculpatory evidence indicating that another man might have killed Morton's wife, including information that his 3-year-old son witnessed the murder and said his dad was not home at the time.[11][12][13] Morton's attorneys discovered this evidence while preparing a final appeal, and were able to get Anderson and others involved in the investigation deposed under oath.

On February 20, 2012; Harle asked the Texas Supreme Court to convene a court of inquiry, finding that there was evidence to support Morton's contention that Anderson had tampered with evidence and should have been held in contempt of court for not complying with the trial judge's order to let him review all possible exculpatory evidence. The court of inquiry began on February 4, 2013. [14] On April 19, 2013, the court of inquiry ordered Anderson to be arrested, saying “This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence.” [15] Anderson responded by claiming immunity from any prosecution under the expiry of applicable statutes of limitation.[16] On September 23, 2013, Anderson resigned from his position as district court judge.

On November 8, 2013, Anderson was found to be in contempt of court by 9th Judicial District Judge Kelly Moore. Anderson plead no contest to the charges as part of a plea bargain. He was sentenced to 10 days in county jail, and was ordered to report to jail no later than December 2, 2013. He received credit for one day he spent in jail in April 2013, when he was arrested following the court of inquiry. He was also fined $500, and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service. He agreed to give up his license to practice law in exchange for having the charges of evidence tampering dropped. He will be eligible to apply to have his law license reinstated after five years.[17][18][19] On 15 November 2013, Anderson was released from jail after having served five days of his 10-day sentence; he was released early after receiving credit for good behavior.[20]

After the plea agreement was announced, it was publicly revealed that Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty agreed to authorize an independent review of every case that Anderson ever prosecuted, along with every case in which Bradley successfully opposed DNA testing.[21]

The Michael Morton Act: Texas Senate Bill 1611[edit]

On May 16, 2013, Governor of Texas Rick Perry signed Texas Senate Bill 1611, also called the Michael Morton Act, into law. The Act is designed to ensure a more open discovery process. The bill's open file policy removes barriers for accessing evidence. Morton was present for the signing of the bill, which became law on January 1, 2014.[22]

In popular media[edit]

Morton's case was featured on CBS's 60 Minutes on March 25, 2012.[23][11] It was also featured on "Katie", the Katie Couric show, on November 13, 2012.[24]

A novel based on the case, entitled Depraved Prosecution, was published in July 2012 by Kurt Johnson, a writer living in Williamson County; in the novel the fictional location of "Wiyamsun County" is the setting.[25]

The Morton case is also depicted in a 2013 documentary film, An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, directed by Al Reinert. [26] The film was featured on CNN Films December 8, 2013 and re-aired throughout the month.[27]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://www.chron.com/exonerees/stories/michael-morton/
  2. ^ Lindell, Chuck. Ken Anderson to serve 10 days in jail [1] 2013-11-08.
  3. ^ Texas State Directory Press, Inc. [2], 2013-11-08.
  4. ^ a b c Colloff, Pamela (December 2012). "The Innocent Man, Part Two". Texas Monthly. Retrieved November 16, 2012. 
  5. ^ "A Tough Prosecutor Finds His Certitude Shaken by a Prisoner's Exoneration," Texas Tribune, Nov. 18, 2011
  6. ^ a b Inquiry sought for Texas prosecutor over wrongful conviction (Los Angeles Times, December 20, 2011)
  7. ^ Tab for wrongful convictions in Texas: $65 million and counting
  8. ^ Michael Morton Goes Free After Nearly 25 Years in Prison, Exonerated for Wife's Murder - ABC News
  9. ^ Former prosecutor apologizes to wrongfully convicted man - Austin American-Statesman
  10. ^ 60 Minutes to spotlight Morton case Sunday - Houston Chronicle
  11. ^ a b Exonerated Williamson County man to appear on "60 Minutes" - Austin American-Statesman
  12. ^ Michael Morton's lawyers aim to prove misconduct - Austin American-Statesman
  13. ^ "60 Minutes" to Feature Michael Morton on Sunday - Texas Tribune
  14. ^ Austin American-Statesman, 2013-02-03.
  15. ^ Lindell, Chuck. [3] Austin American-Statesman, 2013-04-19.
  16. ^ Chamma, Maurice. Anderson Appeals, Citing Statute of Limitations. Texas Tribune, 2013-04-23.
  17. ^ Stutzman, Brad. Anderson gets 10 days in jail, disbarment pending [4] 2013-11-8
  18. ^ Lindell, Chuck. Ken Anderson to serve 10 days in jail [5] 2013-11-08.
  19. ^ Texas State Directory Press, Inc. [6], 2013-11-08.
  20. ^ How Ken Anderson was released after only five days in jail
  21. ^ Jail Time May Be the Least of Ken Anderson's Problems - Texas Monthly
  22. ^ "Gov. Perry Signs Senate Bill 1611, The Michael Morton Act". Office of the Governor. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  23. ^ Freedom after nearly 25 years of wrongful imprisonment - CBS News
  24. ^ [7]
  25. ^ [8]
  26. ^ Buchholz, Brad. Michael Morton documentary is a reflection of grace. Austin American-Statesman, 2013-03-07.
  27. ^ CNN Films: An Unreal Dream - CNN

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]