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Michael Morton Convicted on Circumstantial Evidence Alone

By Scott Rohter, May 2012

“It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys …not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” 
-From the Texas State Code of Criminal Procedure

Dateline: April 22, 2012 Austin, Texas

Twenty five years ago, Judge Ken Anderson of Williamson County Texas, then District Attorney Ken Anderson was the lead prosecutor in the case of the People of the State of Texas  v. Michael Morton , for the murder of his wife Christine Morton. She was raped and bludgeoned to death that morning on her bed. The couple’s three year old son Eric was an eyewitness to the brutal murder of his mother and he told the true story of how it happened to his grandmother. He said that a “monster” had broken into their suburban home and beaten and killed mommy after daddy had left for work that morning. His eyewitness account of the tragic events of that day was discounted, and it was never heard by a jury, even though it corroborated his father's story. The man responsible for suppressing this evidence is now a Texas State Judge, but then he was the District Attorney for Williamson County and the lead prosecutor in the case. His name is Ken Anderson.

There were finger prints of an unknown person on the rear sliding glass door that were suppressed. There were two separate eye-witness accounts of an unknown green van that had been seen by neighbors driving back and forth on the street, and parked out in front of the Morton home around the time of the murder. This evidence was also suppressed by the prosecutor and it was not disclosed to Morton’s defense team, nor was it ever heard by the jury.

Another piece of exculpatory evidence that was not permitted at trial and withheld from the defense team by Ken Anderson was that Christine Morton’s purse had been stolen and her credit card had been used after her death. A check had also been written to herself from her checking account by someone other than her, who had forged her signature (a very telling piece of evidence) nine days after her murder. Only someone who had no right to the funds in her checking account, and who also wanted to remain anonymous would have written a check out to the deceased person and then tried to forge her signature.

Ken Anderson knew of these facts, or at least he should have known them because the Williamson County Sheriff knew about them, but he withheld all of this evidence from the defense attorneys, and none of it was ever brought out at the trial.

In suppressing this exculpatory evidence, the prosecutor in the case Ken Anderson who is now a Texas District Court Judge, violated his oath of office and he violated the law. He also violated a direct order from Presiding Judge William Lott at the time of the trial to turn over all the available evidence that might vindicate the defendant Michael Morton to his defense attorneys.

Finally and most importantly, a bloody bandana was found out in back of the house after the murder, but that evidence was not permitted to be tested nor admitted into evidence at the time of the trial. The bloody bandana contained all of the evidence that was necessary to solve the case 25 years later and to set an innocent man free after spending half his life in jail.

That bandana contained the bloody DNA of Christine Morton and that of her killer, a former construction worker with a criminal record from California, who had broken into the Morton home early that morning shortly after Michael Morton had left for work, and bludgeoned his wife to death, and then had sex with Christine Morton’s lifeless body while the Morton’s little three year old son Eric was watching. This was the “monster” that the little boy had tried to describe to his grandmother, and whose testimony was not allowed to be heard at the trial. His testimony along with all of the other evidence that was suppressed by the prosecutor would have lead to the acquittal of an innocent man, and pointed in the direction of the real killer.

But as far as Ken Anderson was concerned the case was already solved. The murderer was already in custody, and behind bars where he belonged. And his reputation and career as a District Attorney, and later as a Texas State Judge were on the line. Last summer when the bloody bandana was finally allowed into evidence and tested after all of these years, the DNA on it revealed that Michael Morton was indeed innocent. His wife’s blood was mingled with the blood of her real killer and it was this new evidence which had been kept for twenty-five years by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office and withheld as evidence at the time of the trial that ultimately led to Michael Morton's release from prison and to the freedom of this innocent man.

In November of last year that same DNA evidence matched up perfectly with the DNA sample of a former construction worker from California, Mark Allen Norwood who was arrested for the brutal beating, rape, and murder of another North Austin woman in 1988.

But what about Ken Anderson, the District Attorney who prosecuted the case? Well he was appointed to be a Texas District Court Judge by Texas Governor Rick Perry, and he says today that the “system” back then failed to work properly, but that in his heart he knows that he didn’t do anything wrong. Well I disagree!

The Houston based attorney, John Raley, who donated so much of his time over the years working to free Michael Morton has said that if all of this evidence had not been withheld at the time of the trial twenty-five years ago, that Michael Morton would have never been convicted of murder, and he would have never gone to jail. John Raley was finally successful in freeing this innocent man with the help of Barry Sheck, Gerald Goldstein, and Nina Morrison from the Innocence Project, a non-profit New York firm that specializes in overturning wrongful murder convictions based upon previously suppressed DNA evidence. Together they argued for the testing of the bloody bandana that was discovered behind the Morton house on the day of the murder, and for its admission into evidence at this late date.

Now that Michael Morton has been released from prison he can try to put his life back together, but he has spent almost half of it behind bars. There is no amount of compensation that can possibly be worth that! He has missed watching his son grow up, and even more importantly another man lost his wife because Mark Allen Norwood was allowed to remain free and kill again. Ken Anderson, on the other hand has spent the last twenty-five years of his life hobnobbing around as a notable and respected member of his community and more recently as a Texas State Judge. He will now have to appear before a Texas State Court of Inquiry and he must be held accountable for his actions twenty-five years ago. He must be held accountable for his deliberate and repeated attempts to hinder a murder investigation, and to suppress evidence that would have led to the acquittal of an innocent man, and to the capture of the real murderer, who subsequently went on to commit another murder of a north Austin woman in 1988. The eyes of Texas are watching, and the rest of the world is watching too.

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"The truth, the political truth, and nothing but the political truth.
A journalist has no better friend than the truth."
- Scott Rohter

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