Innocence Project & Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association Will Review Williamson County Cases Handled by Former Prosecutors Ken Anderson and John Bradley
Contact: Paul Cates,
(Austin, TX; November 8, 2013) Today, former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton, who was exonerated by DNA evidence in 2011 after serving 25 years for his wife’s murder. Anderson, who sent Governor Rick Perry a letter of resignation on September 23rd, will receive 10 days in Williamson County Jail, a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service and will surrender his license to practice law. This marks an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence.
“Today’s historic precedent demonstrates that when a judge orders a prosecutor to look in his file and disclose exculpatory evidence, deliberate failure to do so is punishable by contempt,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Every state and federal judge can issue such an order tomorrow and deter those few prosecutors who would otherwise deliberately violate their ethical and legal duties. After suffering 25 years in prison as an innocent man, Michael Morton has courageously fought to hold Ken Anderson accountable and to prevent anyone from being victimized by similar misconduct. Today was an important first step.” Morton spent 25 years in prison for his wife’s murder, while the real perpetrator, Mark Alan Norwood, went unapprehended. Norwood, who was eventually convicted earlier this year of murdering Christine Morton, has been indicted for committing a similar murder of Debra Baker in Austin two-and-a-half years after the Morton murder.
After Morton was exonerated, the Innocence Project and pro bono counsel John Raley of Raley & Bowick in Houston, TX, filed a report calling for a Court of Inquiry to investigate whether Anderson engaged in criminal conduct by failing to turn over evidence to the trial court that pointed to Morton’s innocence. In April, Judge Louis Sturns, who presided over a Court of Inquiry earlier this year, issued an opinion finding that there was probable cause to believe that Anderson was guilty of criminal contempt and concealment of official records for deliberately disobeying the trial judge’s order to disclose exculpatory evidence at the request of the defense and ordered Anderson’s arrest in the courtroom. The Innocence Project and its team conducted depositions of key witnesses and uncovered evidence showing that Anderson did not turn over a transcript of the victim’s mother telling an investigator that Morton’s 3-year-old son Eric had told her that Morton was not the attacker and other evidence pointing to a third party assailant. On the day before Morton’s trial began in 1987, when Anderson was asked if he had anything favorable to disclose to the defense he responded that he did not.
In order to determine whether other people may have been wrongly convicted because of Anderson’s misconduct, the Innocence Project has partnered with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Innocence Project of Texas to coordinate an independent review of the cases that Anderson worked on during his tenure as Williamson County District Attorney. The groups will also review some of the cases handled by former prosecutor John Bradley, who fought efforts by the Innocence Project to secure the DNA testing that ultimately proved Morton’s innocence. In Bradley’s cases, the review will be limited to those where Bradley opposed DNA testing. Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty has also pledged her cooperation, by making the District Attorney’s Office’s case files available to the reviewers, and by providing access to any other law enforcement documents from the cases under review that might shed light on whether a wrongful conviction occurred. Duty has assigned First Assistant District Attorney Mark Brunner to serve as the liaison to the outside review process.
“When an individual prosecutor engages in an egregious act of misconduct, their superiors should allow for an audit of other cases handled by that prosecutor in a way that is independent, external, and transparent. The number of prosecutors who deliberately break the rules is small, but history shows they tend to be repeat offenders. What the new Williamson County prosecutor is doing today should become a best practice adopted by prosecutors across the country,” added Scheck.
One of the reasons that the state was able to bring criminal charges against Anderson is because he intentionally violated a court order expressly directing him to turn over any evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence. The order was prompted by Morton’s trial lawyers who were suspicious when they learned that Anderson wasn’t planning to call the lead investigator to testify in the case. As we now know, that investigator learned that Morton’s 3-year-old son witnessed the crime and told his grandmother that Morton wasn’t the perpetrator. The investigator also received evidence that the attack was committed by a third party intruder — a neighbor reported that she observed what appeared to be someone staking out the house and someone attempted to use the victim’s credit card in San Antonio.
Morton was represented Scheck and Innocence Project Senior Staff Attorney Nina Morrison, John Raley with Raley & Bowick in Houston, TX, and Gerry Goldstein and Cynthia Orr with Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley in San Antonio, TX.