Exonerated of Murder, Texan Seeks Inquiry on Prosecutor
By JOHN SCHWARTZ and BRANDI GRISSOM
That is no longer so unusual in
“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” said Bennet L. Gershman, an expert on prosecutorial misconduct at
The prosecutor, Ken Anderson, a noted expert on
Mr. Morton, who was a manager at an
Mr. Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Beginning in 2005, he pleaded with the court to test DNA on a blue bandanna found near his home shortly after the murder, along with other evidence.
For six years, the
Mr. Norwood has been arrested and charged in Mrs. Morton’s death and is a suspect in a similar murder from 1988.
The filing by Mr. Morton’s lawyer, John Raley, and attorneys from the Innocence Project, a group based in
They will ask the court to determine that there is probable cause to believe that Mr. Anderson withheld reports that the judge in the 1987 trial had ordered him to turn over. The judge had demanded the documents to determine whether they might help Mr. Morton’s case. Finding nothing exculpatory in the small number of documents he was provided by the prosecutor, the judge ordered the record sealed.
In August, however, a different judge ordered the record unsealed, and Mr. Morton’s lawyers discovered that Mr. Anderson had provided only a fraction of the available evidence. Missing from the file was the transcript of a telephone conversation between a sheriff’s deputy and Mr. Morton’s mother-in-law in which she reported that her 3-year-old grandson had seen a “monster” — who was not his father — attack and kill his mother.
Also missing were police reports from Mr. Morton’s neighbors, who said they had seen a man in a green van repeatedly park near their home and walk into the woods behind their house. And there were even reports, also never turned over, that Mrs. Morton’s credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature cashed after her death.
In October, Judge Sid Harle of Bexar County District Court freed Mr. Morton based on the DNA evidence and authorized an unusual process allowing his defense lawyers to investigate the prosecutor’s conduct in the original trial. The lawyers questioned the lead sheriff’s investigator, an assistant district attorney who worked with Mr. Anderson and the former prosecutor himself.
In their accounts, the witnesses said Mr. Anderson had firmly controlled every detail of the prosecution. In his own two-day deposition, however, Judge Anderson said he recalled few details of the case and asserted that he had done nothing wrong. He said that he had interpreted the judge’s order to disclose the reports as a narrow demand for the initial documents from the investigation and that he felt “sick” over Mr. Morton’s wrongful imprisonment.
If the court of inquiry ends with a finding that Mr. Anderson committed serious acts of misconduct by concealing material evidence, it could lead to disciplinary action by the state bar association and possibly even a criminal prosecution.
Experts, however, are skeptical that Judge Anderson could face serious punishment or disbarment, even if the court were to decide that he had committed malfeasance. Susan R. Klein, a professor at the University of Texas Law School who specializes in criminal issues and prosecutorial ethics, said that such actions would be “incredibly unusual,” particularly after the Supreme Court’s decision this year dismissing a $14 million civil jury award against a Louisiana prosecutor, Harry Connick Sr., for his failure to turn over evidence that ultimately led to an exoneration.
While withholding material evidence intentionally can get a lawyer disbarred, Ms. Klein said, “It’s extremely unlikely.” In the court filing, Mr. Morton’s lawyers argue that the amount of time that has passed since the trial may not be a bar to criminal prosecution if Mr. Anderson is found to have violated a court order; they argue that there may be no statute of limitations for contempt of court under state law.
Mark Dietz, a lawyer for Judge Anderson, said that he had asked for, but had not received, the report that Mr. Morton’s lawyers plan to file on Monday. He said he worried that the report would inaccurately reflect what happened in 1987. Mr. Dietz questioned whether Judge Harle had jurisdiction to order a court of inquiry, and in a letter to Barry C. Scheck, the co-founder of the Innocence Project, wrote that while his client welcomed “positive discussion about criminal justice reforms,” “false and defamatory statements regarding Mr. Anderson’s conduct as a prosecutor in the Morton case have no proper place in that discussion.”
In an interview, Mr. Scheck said he hoped the court of inquiry proceeding would result in changes in law and policy that could promote greater fairness in criminal cases. Previous high-profile exonerations, he said, have led to new laws that improved access to DNA testing after conviction and provided generous compensation to those who were wrongfully convicted.
“This is one of those catalytic, iconic cases that leads to reform,” he said.
John Schwartz reported from New York, and Brandi Grissom from
Donations can be sent to the
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs