First, a disclaimer: John Raley is one of my heroes.
When John Raley met Michael Morton and became convinced of Morton’s innocence, Raley committed to doing whatever he could as a pro bono lawyer to bring truth to a terrible injustice. It would take years. Morton had been convicted of the 1986 bludgeoning murder of his wife Christine and sentenced to life in prison. But he was unwavering in claiming his innocence. And as it turned out, he was telling the truth.
Justice was delayed for Morton for twenty-five long years, six years longer than his exoneration could have taken if prosecutors had been cooperative in the review of this case. Unfortunately, Raley, Morton, and Innocence Project lawyers met only obstruction from the Williamson County (Texas) prosecutors.
Two of the “hard-on-crime” officials who were instrumental in the original conviction or in delaying the post-conviction search for truth, paid a price for their decisions. In a guest column (here) in the Austin American Statesman, Raley has asked a third official, now a judge, to take responsibility for his role. Continue reading
Michael Morton’s remarkable story of wrongful conviction for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine, his 25 years of incarceration, and his exoneration, will be told to a national audience when the documentary “An Unreal Dream,” written and directed by two-time academy award nominee, Al Reinert, premiers on CNN tomorrow night, Thursday, December 5, at 9:00 p.m. ET and PT. According to CNN (here) the documentary seeks to “demonstrates that Morton’s story is not unique.” Continue reading
As reported by ABC News (here), former Williamson County (TX) District Attorney Ken Anderson, 61, accepted a plea deal Friday that will likely end criminal and civil cases against him as a result of his handling of the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. Anderson will serve 10 days in jail. He also will be disbarred and will be required to serve 500 hours of community service.
Michael Morton, the man who served nearly 25 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of the 1986 bludgeoning murder of his wife, was present at the proceeding at the Williamson County Courthouse where Anderson recently resigned from his position as district judge.
Morton reportedly said, “It’s a good day.”
According to Morton’s attorney, all cases handled by Anderson will be subject to an audit to determine other possible misconduct.
Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth today issued an arrest warrant for former Williamson County Prosecutor Ken Anderson, currently a Texas District judge, for his handling of the case of Michael Morton. According to the Wall Street Journal (here), following a weeklong Court of Inquiry earlier this year, Judge Sturns has ruled that there was sufficient evidence that Anderson “was guilty of all three charges brought against him: criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records.” Continue reading
An opinion (here) in The Stateman (Austin) yesterday commended the Texas legislature for pending legislation aimed at reducing wrongful conviction. After some challenge by district attorneys and a resulting amendment that protects witnesses and victims, the Texas Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1611, known as the Michael Morton bill, which would create a uniform “open file” policy in the state, thus requiring the prosecution to share all files with defense attorneys.
According to the opinion piece, the Senate has also passed a bill “that would give exonerated Texans four years from the date of their release from prison to Continue reading
The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday (here) that in opening statements in the trial of Mark Alan Norwood, on trial for the 1986 bludgeoning death of Christine Morton, prosecutor Lisa Tanner told jurors that the state will present new evidence connecting Norwood to the crime. Tanner, representing the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said that a .45 Colt pistol that was missing from the Morton home after the murder was located by prosecutors. Norwood allegedly sold the gun, registered to Christine’s husband Michael Morton, to a man who had hired Norwood to work on a home remodeling project. Continue reading
A very rare court of inquiry underway in Texas will determine if Ken Anderson, who prosecuted and won a conviction of the innocent Michael Morton in the murder of his wife Christine, committed criminal acts in doing so. Anderson, now a district judge, is accused of failing to turn over to the defense substantial evidence of Michael Morton’s innocence as required by Brady vs. Maryland. Failure to do so can be reversible error in a case, but rarely has a prosecutor suffered personal liability for alleged violations.
If any case can focus public attention on the proper scope of prosecutorial immunity, it is this one. Morton spent 25 years in prison before DNA testing of a Continue reading
Yesterday, a Travis County (TX) grand jury indicted Mark Norwood on capital murder charges in the 1988 death of Debra Baker. Norwood is currently awaiting trial on murder charges in the 1986 death of Christine Morton. The apprehension of the man whose DNA is allegedly linked to both murders was delayed more than two decades by the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton, Christine’s husband, who served 25 years in prison for the crime he always said he did not commit.
The lesson is painfully clear: If Norwood is guilty of both murders, Debra Baker would likely be alive today had Norwood, and not Michael Morton, been Continue reading
The once powerful Williamson County (TX) District Attorney John Bradley is looking for a new job. He was the definition of a hard-nosed prosecutor and had served at the voters’ pleasure since his appointment by Governor Rick Perry in 2001 until his stunning defeat in the primary for his re-election earlier this year.
Bradley became high profile nationally when Governor Perry appointed him to chair the Texas Forensic Science Commission during the contentious discussions regarding arson forensic evidence in general and the Todd Willingham case in particular. Willingham, who always claimed innocence in the fire death of his Continue reading
In dueling commentaries in the Austin (TX) newspaper The Statesman, Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley here and John Raley (eight-year pro bono attorney on the Innocence Project team that represented Michael Morton) here, are giving voters two versions of why Michael Morton spent an extra 2,400 days in prison for a crime he did not commit. At stake is an election in which Bradley is struggling to keep his job. Bradley, who has been a popular tough-on-crime prosecutor in Texas for ten years, is trying to refocus the race on anything but the issue that is dominating it: His long record of resisting a second look at the conviction of Michael Morton.
For those who have observed prosecutorial resistance to post-conviction DNA testing that eventually proved a wrongful conviction, the story is tragically familiar. Continue reading
Millions of Americans had their eyes opened to two important criminal justice issues—prosecutorial misconduct and wrongful conviction compensation—as national television news programs explored topics related to wrongful conviction last night, Sunday, March 25, 2012. Ohio Innocence Project Director Mark Godsey previously announced these programs on this blog. If you missed them, see the video link here to the 14-minute segment of CBS’s 60 MINUTES with Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison before DNA proved he didn’t murder his wife. The piece explores the case that has prompted a rare judicial inquiry into allegations of prosecutorial Continue reading
Posted in Compensation/Exoneree compensation, Editorials/Opinion, Prosecutorial conduct (good and bad), Reforming/Improving the system
Tagged 60 Minutes, After Innocence, CNN, Ken Anderson, Michael Morton, Nancy Petro, prosecutorial misconduct, wrongful conviction compensation
This week Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson ordered a special “court of inquiry” into former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson’s alleged misconduct in his prosecution of Michael Morton, proven innocent of murdering his wife after he served … Continue reading