Nearly two months after Michael Morton was freed in Texas following 25 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, the former district attorney who prosecuted the case held a press conference last week to discuss his involvement in the case.
An editorial in Tuesday’s Austin American-Statesman said that State District Judge Ken Anderson offered an apology to Michael Morton without accepting responsibility.
“As woefully inadequate as I realize it is, I want to formally apologize for the system’s failure to Mr. Morton and every other person who was affected by the verdict,” Anderson said at a news conference last week. It was rhetorical sleight of hand that ignores an obvious and compelling truth: The system doesn’t run itself. People run the system, and in this case, the people who run the system failed miserably.
Before Morton was convicted in 1987 for the murder of his wife, the prosecution failed to turn over evidence pointing to his innocence.
Blaming the system is a convenient rhetorical device for a public official in a tough spot, but it renders Anderson’s apology hollow. If he is truly sorry, then Anderson should turn remorse into action by actively working to reform the system in a way that prevents future miscarriages of justice. Start with eliminating barriers that prevent post-conviction DNA testing and creating tougher sanctions against prosecutors who hide key evidence.
The system didn’t fail in the Morton case. The people who are the system failed.