The story is all too familiar. Michael Morton, a Texas father, served almost 24 years in prison for a crime–a brutal murder of his beloved wife–that he did not commit. He was freed after DNA testing indicated he was not the killer.
While pleased to have his freedom, Morton believes that there was willful misconduct om the part of the prosecutor for his case. And he is doing something about it.
Morton is pressing for tougher penalties for prosecutors who withhold evidence. He recognizes that nothing can change what transpired in his case, but wants to prevent similar situations from happening to others.
Michael Morton was convicted in the fatal beating of his wife Christine in 1986 by a prosecutor who Morton and his attorneys believe knowingly withheld key evidence. Morton was exonerated last October, after DNA evidence cleared him and pointed to another man who is now charged in the murder and is implicated in a similar slaying in 1988. Morton was freed with the assistance of the Innocence Project.
Though Morton was awarded $2 million for his wrongful conviction under Texas’ compensation law, Morton says that his fight is not over. He plans to meet with Texas lawmakers and State Bar officials to use his high profile case as an example of the need for accountability in cases where prosecutors withhold evidence and obstruct the proper delivery of justice.
Texas has had more former inmates be exonerated than any other state.
The prosecutor in Michael Morton’s case was Ken Anderson, now a Texas judge. Morton contends that Anderson, as well as the investigators in his case, were so determined to find Morton guilty in his wife’s death that they failed to present critical evidence that would have, at the very least, provide significant doubt of his guilt.
Included in the evidence not provided in the case were statements from Morton’s son Eric, who was 3-years old and at home with his mother when the murder took place. Eric Morton told his grandmother that he saw his mother being murdered and that his father wasn’t responsible. Additionally, a neighbor of the Morton family described in detail a man parking a green van near the Morton home, then walk across a wooded area behind the residence.
A special prosecutor is currently investigating the claims that Ken Anderson hid evidence.
In a 90-minute conversation with the AP concerning his case, Morton stated, “We want to tell prosecutors, `Just play fair, follow the rules, obey the law. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been around a whole bunch of them lately. They can do this and we can help get the Legislature to make it doable, too.”
Morton went on to say, “This was intentional. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue or a typo.”
Ken Anderson’s attorney, Eric Nichols, responded to Morton’s claims and the current investigation into the alleged misconduct of then-prospector Anderson.
“It is a terrible tragedy that Mr. Morton served over 24 years for a crime that he apparently did not commit and Judge Anderson has recognized the enormity of that tragedy. But the fact that Mr. Morton was tried based on the evidence that was available at the time does not mean that there was prosecutorial misconduct.”
In September, Ken Anderson Anderson will face a proceeding called a “court of inquiry,” where it is possible that court officials may face sanctions.