Monday, April 22, 2013

Dropping the other shoe

Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. Once evidence surfaced that Mr. Morton might just have been innocent of the murder of his wife, the Williamson County District Attorney, John Bradley, fought tooth and nail to prevent the evidence from being tested.

The DA at the time of Mr. Morton's trial, Ken Anderson, was now a state district court judge in Williamson County and the office was circling the wagons to cover up the sins of one of their own.

Eventually the evidence was tested - and it exonerated Mr. Morton.

Twenty-five years is a long time to sit in prison - especially if you were wrongly convicted. Even worse if that conviction were the result of prosecutorial misconduct. There is nothing that can make up for that time. Mr. Morton will never have the opportunity to see his son grow up. An apology from the court and a check from the state can't cover the debt Mr. Morton is owed.

During the investigation of the murder of Christine Morton, investigators interviewed Mr. Morton's three-year-old son who told police that his father wasn't at home when his mother was killed. There were also police reports about a suspicious van in the area and a man who wandered up behind the Morton's house on more than one occasion.

Prosecutors failed to disclose that information to the defense before or during trial. And, of course, the jury never heard a word about any of it. Making it worse, Judge. Anderson then lied to the judge presiding over Mr. Morton's trial when asked about the evidence.

But now the other shoe has dropped. On Friday, State District Judge Louis Sturns, presiding over a court of inquiry, found that Judge Anderson broke two laws in his handling of the matter and that he committed criminal contempt when he lied to the court. Then Judge Sturns ordered Judge Anderson arrested.

In a blunt and scathing ruling, District Judge Louis Sturns said Anderson acted to defraud the trial court and Morton’s defense lawyers, resulting in an innocent man serving almost 25 years in prison. 
“This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence,” Sturns said.

Let that sink in for a moment.

First the judge tells a fellow judge that he broke the law while handling the Morton case, then he issues an arrest order for a sitting judge. That just doesn't happen in Texas.

Judge Anderson was taken into custody, posted bond and was released that evening. But the sting of Judge Sturns' words will never be erased. A sitting state district judge broke the law and lied to a judge all in the name of trying to win a case against a man he knew - or should have known - was innocent of the charge.

Judge Anderson challenged the ruling and informed Judge Sturns that he plans to appeal on the grounds that the court of inquiry exceeded the scope of its authority and that the statute of limitations had already run. He also claimed that the evidence didn't support Judge Sturns' findings.

It is more than a little interesting to note that Judge Anderson has never denied hiding the evidence. Neither he nor John Bradley found anything wrong with not disclosing exculpatory evidence to Mr. Morton's attorneys

While the Michael Morton Act expanding the items the state must turn over to the defense prior to trial is a step in the right direction, the actions of Judge Sturns are the equivalent of turning the entire truck around. A ruling that a piece of evidence is inadmissible is one thing - a ruling that a prosecutor's actions constituted a criminal act is something entirely different.

If we want to make certain that no one else has to go through what Michael Morton went through, we have to start holding prosecutors accountable for their actions. This isn't a game we play, what goes in those courtrooms affect people's lives in profound ways. Judge Anderson's actions not only robbed Mr. Morton of 25 years, they also robbed his loved ones of those 25 years.

I just wonder if Judge Anderson has enough honor to step down from the bench he has disgraced.


Cleverly Disguised said...

Ken Anderson has no honor....He has demonstrated that by word and deed numerous times...He is a classic example of "It's not about justice...It's about winng or losing."

Brad Walters said...

I cannot help but wonder how many other innocent defendants have been railroaded by Anderson and those who agree with his policy of hiding the evidence when you believe the defendant is guilty. I also wonder how many times as a judge he was decidedly unhelpful regarding defense discovery motions and Brady requests. This is the kind of thing that just strikes fear in me. Knowing that if my client is innocent, a conflicted prosecutor can just decide that an important piece of evidence is immaterial for Brady purposes and an ex-prosecutor judge won't act to insure a fair trial.

A judge who gets a file with six pages in it for in camera review when those six pages supposedly represent all of the notes of a sheriff who conducted an extensive murder investigation then only asks the ADA if he has turned over all exculpatory evidence is amazing. The trial judge should have smelled a rat especially when the sheriff was not called. If I am the judge, that sheriff will be in front of me answering how this file is only six pages long and what else should be in it. Judges must insure a fair trial. There were many clues that this was not happening for Michael Morton and the judge allowed the fox to guard the hen house...for twenty five years. How many lives has this kind of bias allowed to be wasted? Anderson was allowed to make vial unsupported conclusions unsupported by evidence to turn the jury against Morton.

A scholarly blogger pointed out that in Harris County he runs into "incipient" Andersons every year. So do I and they act so offended when you call them on it.

There is just no will to turn the light on these people who treat prosecution like a game of battleship and think it's so clever to lie to win. Because the defendant is probably guilty anyway, it's justified. If one Michael Morton gets caught up by mistake, that's just fine as long as we convict those "guilty" people by any means necessary.