Errors in judgement

Posted in Criminal Justice at 3:23 pm by wcnews

Brandi Grissom is doing a series at The Texas Tribune, Errors in Judgement - the consequences of prosecutorial mistakes. And the article on Sunday dealt with Michael Morton’s son, Eric Olson. Yes, they have different last names now. That’s just one of the gut wrenching things this family has had to deal with over the past 25 years, Son Seeks Answers in Father’s Wrongful Conviction.

Eric said that he has no recollection of those events now, and that after his mother’s death and his father’s conviction, family members did all they could to protect him and give him a normal childhood.

“I look back now, and I should have been really, really messed up,” Eric said during an interview in a hotel room not far from the courthouse where his father was convicted and where documentary filmmakers were working on a movie about the family’s nightmarish ordeal. He glanced across the room adoringly at his cooing, blue-eyed infant daughter. Her name: Christine Marie Olson, after Eric’s mother. “But everything came out pretty good.”

His mother’s sister, Marylee Kirkpatrick, who lived in Houston, won custody of her sister’s son.

The custody agreement required Kirkpatrick to ensure that Eric visited his father twice each year at the Wynne prison unit in Huntsville.

Eric remembers sitting at a picnic table in the prison yard. His dad always brought lemon drops. His aunt would sit at the table, too, quietly reading.

As he grew older, though, Eric said, he realized how weird the situation was. When he was a teenager, he wrote a letter to his father explaining that he wanted to stop the visits.

“I don’t remember it being as emotional to say I didn’t want to go anymore,” he said. “I just did. I didn’t feel connected to it much anymore.”

Around the time the visits stopped, Kirkpatrick married Paul Olson. To Eric, who changed his last name when he turned 18, they are Mom and Dad.

For his father in prison, news of his son’s name change was shattering. The hope of proving his innocence and reuniting with his son had kept Morton afloat in the grinding boredom and harsh reality of prison.

For Eric, though, changing his name was simply the next logical step in moving on with his life, being part of the family he loved.

And so, life moved on. Eric went to college at Texas State University-San Marcos. He graduated, moved back to Houston and began working at the Catholic preparatory high school he had attended. There, he met Maggie Mahoney in 2009, and they were married last year.


The parole board, Eric learned, had told Morton that if he simply accepted responsibility for killing his wife, he could be released. Morton refused.

“It turns out he had said, ‘All I have left is my innocence,’” Eric said. “That’s pretty bold. I don’t think I would have done it. I would have gotten out. Get me out of here.”

With Morton, 57, now out of prison, the father and son are building the relationship they started to forge that night at Raley’s house. They see each other about once a month. Morton fawns over his granddaughter and marvels that his son is now a father.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, now I have to get to know him, because I never did. I never knew who he was, or what his favorite food was,” Eric said. “Being introduced to him was like remembering a movie I saw when I was a kid, like meeting a movie star.”

And for Christine Morton’s family it…

For the family who raised him — Christine Morton’s sister, brother and mother — Eric said the discovery of Morton’s innocence was difficult. It brought a flood of terrible, long-buried memories along with new guilt and questions about how things could have gone so wrong.

The Kirkpatricks, Eric said, had a close relationship with [Williamson County state district Judge Ken] Anderson, the prosecutor.

“He convinced everybody that’s what the truth was, and that’s what they thought forever,” Eric said. “They didn’t have any other source of truth.”

The best part of the story, of course, is that since Morton’s release the father and son have been able to reconcile. Of course neither of them is out for vengeance. They want those responsible held accountable, and to make sure no one else has to live through what they have.

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