Justice and accountability

Posted in Criminal Justice, District Attorney, Had Enough Yet?, Williamson County at 12:55 pm by wcnews

A prosecutor’s job, it is said, is to ensure that justice is served. In the case of the murder of Christine Morton her family, thus far, has not received justice. All they’ve gotten until now is ignorance and incompetence at best, or at worst prosecutorial misconduct. One of the worst parts of this case has always been that the real murderer has remained free and on the loose for 25 years and has almost certainly killed again.

While justice has yet to be served in this case, we still also have to wait to see if those responsible for the injustice done to Michael Morton and his family, will be held accountable. Grits writes that it’s unlikely that the original prosecutors (Ken Anderson and Mike Davis) or DA John Bradley will be held accountable by the State Bar of Texas, State Bar should sanction prosecutor from Michael Morton case but almost certainly won’t.

I couldn’t agree more with an Austin Statesman editorial today calling for the Texas State Bar to investigate and (hopefully) sanction Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, who was the prosecutor that allegedly withheld evidence which might have exonerated Michael Morton, who was recently released from after 25 years in prison based on a false conviction.


For my money they should also investigate current Williamson DA John Bradley who fought the release of said information tooth and nail for the last six years. Whether these “Brady violations,” or failure to turn over exculpatory evidence to the defense, stemmed from malice or incompetence matters little, certainly to Mr. Morton.


The problem is, although the State Bar “can” hold prosecutors accountable, in practice they almost never do. Criminal defense attorneys are disciplined quite frequently, but a one-armed man could probably count up the number of prosecutors disciplined in the past decade for Brady violations and not use up all his fingers. When you’re talking about a DA who went on to become a District Judge, I’d put the odds he’ll be sanctioned at slim to none, with slim making plans to leave the building. Prosecutors in this state simply aren’t sanctioned for withholding exculpatory evidence, for reasons that completely elude me.

The State Bar didn’t even discipline a DA or judge from Collin County after the prosecutor admitted in a deposition they’d been sleeping together during a capital murder trial. (The judge claimed they’d ceased the affair before the trial, contradicting the DA who recalled it continuing during and after the event, but either way they concealed the relationship and/or lied about it for many years after the fact). If those two weren’t disbarred, I harbor little hope the State Bar will sanction Judge Anderson over the Michael Morton case. Since prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity even for egregious misconduct, the only even theoretical accountability for them lies with the State Bar disciplinary committee, and they’ve proven over and over they just aren’t up to the task.

Hopefully having The Innocence Project working on this case can give it a better chance of success, Michael Morton’s lawyers aim to prove misconduct.

Innocence Project lawyers received the transcript in 2008 under Texas open records laws over objections from the sheriff’s office and Bradley. They also found a summary of the telephone transcript in a district attorney case file marked “trial documents,” said John Raley, a Houston civil lawyer who has been working on Morton’s behalf since 2005.

Morton’s lawyers argue that withholding the transcript violated the U.S. Constitution by trampling Morton’s right to fair treatment by the legal system and his right to view prosecution evidence that could cast doubt on his guilt.

Defense lawyers also say that Anderson and investigators violated the trial judge’s order to turn over all of Wood’s reports and field notes.

Before the 1987 trial, District Judge William Lott announced that he would review the material to make sure no exculpatory evidence was improperly withheld from Morton. Anderson assured Lott that he would meet with Wood to ensure that all relevant investigatory material would be provided, trial transcripts show.

After reviewing the documents, Lott announced that he had found no hidden evidence and then sealed the file for review by an appeals court.

That sealed file, opened in August, contained only a five-page report detailing the first day of Wood’s investigation and a one-page form, signed by Morton, allowing his house and pickup to be searched. None of the four recently revealed documents, all of which were generated by Wood or copied to the sergeant, was included.

“Trial prosecutors’ deliberate failure to produce the Wood documents was a knowing and egregious violation of Morton’s due process rights and renders his trial fundamentally unfair,” Morton’s lawyers said in court briefs.

Anderson did not return calls seeking comment.

Most, if not all, know what should happen in a case like this. Anderson, Davis, and Bradley should be held accountable, at the least, by being sanctioned or disbarred by the State Bar, and the real killer must be brought to justice. It’s hard to understand why this is still the case.

Recent DNA tests identified another man as a suspect in the 1986 Morton murder and the similar bludgeoning death two years later of Debra Masters Baker in Austin. The suspect, unnamed in court records, was not in custody as of Friday, officials said.

How close we get to justice and accountability in this case will go a long way toward restoring faith in the criminal justice system in Williamson County. Whether the prosecutor’s job, to ensure justice is served, is being done. The longer these three people are left in office, and/or not held accountable, the erosion of trust in our criminal justice system will continue.

Further Reading:
Morton case raises questions about DA.
Prosecutors in Morton case could face judicial fallout.

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