Texas Court Rules There Is Probable Cause to Believe Former District Attorney Violated State Law in Michael Morton Prosecution
Recommends Court of Inquiry into Misconduct That Contributed to Morton’s Wrongful Murder Conviction
Contact: Paul Cates, (212) 364-5346, cell (917) 566-1294
(Austin, TX; February 10, 2012) — Today a Texas Judge ruled that there is probable cause to believe that former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson violated state criminal law by refusing to turn over evidence that contributed to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton. Judge Sid Harle remanded the case to the Chief Judge of the Texas Supreme Court with the recommendation that the state convene a court of inquiry to look into possible prosecutorial misconduct that caused Morton to serve 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
“As Mr. Morton’s case so painfully illustrates, tragic consequences can result when prosecutors put aside their ethical obligations in their zeal to win convictions, yet far too often their misdeeds go unpunished,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Hopefully Judge Harle’s ruling today will serve as a reminder that no one is above the law.”
Today’s ruling comes in response to a report submitted by the Innocence Project asking the court to recommend a court of inquiry, a unique Texas legal procedure that can be initiated by a judge, to investigate whether Anderson committed wrongdoing by refusing to turn over to the trial court as ordered evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence. Morton always maintained that his wife’s murder was committed by a third party intruder. The Innocence Project conducted depositions with key witnesses and uncovered other evidence showing that Anderson did not turn over the transcript of the victim’s mother telling lead investigator Sgt. Don Wood that Morton’s three-year-old son told her that Morton was not the attacker, a message to Wood dated two days after the murder reporting that what appeared to be the victim’s Visa card was recovered at a store in San Antonio, and a report from a neighbor observing someone staking out the Morton’s house before the murder.
Morton’s defense attorneys suspected all along that the prosecution was in possession of evidence pointing to Morton’s innocence because of the prosecution’s unusual decision not to call its lead investigator Sgt. Don Woods at trial. The defense raised these concerns with the trial judge who ordered Anderson to turn over all of the reports by Woods so that he could conduct a review of the reports. Although Anderson has repeatedly claimed to have no recollection of his prosecution of Morton, Anderson claimed for the first time in his deposition that his understanding of the trial judge’s order was that he turn over only those reports by Woods dealing with Morton’s statements.
This explanation contradicts all other participants’ understanding of the judge’s order and the judge’s own handwritten notes on the pre-trial hearing docket which state: “Court to conduct in camera [in chambers] inspection of report of officer Don Wood in connection with D[efendant’]s Brady motion.”
“As Mr. Morton has said, revenge is a natural instinct, but it’s not our goal here,” said Nina Morrison, a senior staff attorney with the Innocence Project. “Our goal is to ensure that no one has to suffer like Mr. Morton and the other people whose lives were destroyed in this case.”
Morton is represented by Scheck and Morrison at the Innocence Project, John Raley with Raley & Bowick in Houston, TX, and Gerry Goldstein and Cynthia Orr with Goldstein, Goldstein & Hilley in San Antonio, TX.
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