The latest on the investigation of Michael Morton’s false conviction

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Williamson County at 5:00 am by wcnews

A very interesting article in today’s AAS on what’s still to come in the investigation into the how Michael Morton wound up in prison for a crime he did not commit, Morton lawyers put prosecution on defense. It begins by pointing out the unprecedented nature of the investigation into the prosecutors.

Combining tenacity with legal creativity, lawyers for Michael Morton are doing something that has never been attempted in the nation’s 280 previous DNA exoneration cases: They’re investigating the prosecutor who sent Morton away for a murder he did not commit.

Armed with court-given power not typically available to defense lawyers, Morton’s legal team has pried open investigative files and forced former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson to answer questions under oath and against his will.

The team has also combed court records and interviewed current and former county officials to flesh out allegations that Anderson hid evidence that could have spared Morton from serving almost 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine.

And now we know where all this effort is headed.

On Dec. 19, Morton’s lawyers will provide a written report of their findings to District Judge Sid Harle, who took over Morton’s case in August.

They’ll discuss the report in open court with Morton likely to be in attendance.

And they’ll conclude by asking Harle to take action against Anderson, though what type of action is something Morton’s lawyers are keeping to themselves for the moment.

A hint, however, can be found in the transcript of an Oct. 3 hearing that took place in Harle’s chambers. Morton lawyer Barry Scheck told Harle that they would return to his court if they found indications of misconduct by Morton’s prosecutors.

“I do think that that might trigger other investigations,” Scheck told the judge.

More investigations to come. No one involved in the prosecution, and subsequent unnecessary lengthening of Morton’s time in prison, will like the sound of that. But the most confounding part of the article was when discussing Anderson’s selective memory of what he did or did not disclose to Morton’s lawyers before the trial.

At issue are these four items:

• The transcript of a police interview with Christine Morton’s mother, Rita Kirkpatrick, who revealed that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son witnessed the murder and said Michael Morton was not home at the time.

• A report that Christine Morton’s credit card might have been used in San Antonio two days after her death.

• Reports that a $20 check made out to Christine Morton was cashed nine days after her death.

• A police report about suspicious behavior by an unidentified driver of a green van who, a neighbor said, on several occasions parked and walked into the wooded area behind the Morton house.

The article then goes on.

A condensed version of the Kirkpatrick interview and the report about the green van were recently found in Anderson’s old files at the district attorney’s office.

In his deposition, Anderson said he did not recall discussing the Kirkpatrick interview with Morton’s trial lawyers but assumed he did because the information was “something that you would typically tell a defense attorney about.”

But Anderson told Scheck he believed he was under no obligation to turn over a copy of the interview transcript because it was not admissible in court. Three-year-olds were not competent to testify, he said, and rules against hearsay would have kept Kirkpatrick from testifying about the conversation with her grandson.

Scheck challenged that notion, saying the information could have opened a new avenue of investigation for defense lawyers. [Emphasis added]

And that seems to be the overriding point of this whole case. Whether out of arrogance or some other reason, it looks like Anderson and former Sheriff Jim Boutwell got it in their minds that Morton was guilty, no matter where the evidence was pointing. Reading that brought to mind this quote from today’s KXAN article on the 20th anniversary of the Yogurt Shop murders in Austin, Yogurt shop murder argument still rages.

“It is one thing to believe someone is guilty; but when you let belief run your investigation, you’re going to exclude things that are dissonant with your belief.”

It seems pretty obvious that Anderson and Boutwell decided Morton was guilty, no matter what the evidence said. For whatever reason justice was set aside in order to wrap up the case and get a conviction. And maybe we’ll find out, if the investigations continue, that false conviction was a crime as well.

The most important outcome of the Morton investigation must be accountability for convicting an innocent man and keeping him there for so long. If they are not held accountable - whether through disbarment, resignation, criminal conviction, or the ballot box - then prosecutors will feel free in the future to win convictions, instead of finding truth and justice.

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