Today in History: October 4th, 2011
On this day in history, 2011, a great injustice to one man, Michael Morton, that has since inspired a book (Depraved Prosecution) and a documentary (An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story), was undone.
On August 13, 1986, Christine Morton (age 31) was found by a neighbor beaten to death in her bed in the Williamson County, Texas home where she lived with her husband Michael and their toddler son. Michael, who had no history of violence or a criminal record, was arrested for Christine’s murder six weeks later.
During the trial, the prosecution contended that Morton murdered his spouse of seven years because she supposedly refused him sex on the night of his 32nd birthday, August 12. Morton insisted he had nothing to do with his wife’s murder, and maintained an intruder must have entered the home and killed her after he left for work very early on August 13th.
Although there were no witnesses or physical evidence to tie Michael Morton to the murder, he was convicted on February 17, 1987, and given a life sentence.
In 2005, Morton’s defense lawyers requested that the state of Texas run DNA tests on numerous items, including a blood-soaked bandana the police found at an abandoned construction site close to the Morton home the day after the murder.
The Williamson County district attorney managed to block all requests for DNA testing until the year 2010, when a Texas appeals court finally ordered that DNA testing on the bandana take place.
By the summer of 2011, the test results were in, which showed that the bandana contained not only Christine’s hair and blood, but also the DNA of another man. DNA evidence made it possible to identify this man as Mark Alan Norwood, a felon with a long criminal past who had been working in the same area the Mortons had been living at the time of the murder.
Michael Morton was finally freed from prison on this day in history- October 4, 2011- and was officially exonerated in December that year. The month after Morton gained his freedom, Norwood was arrested fro the murder of Christine Morton. Also based on DNA evidence, Norwood was indicted for murdering another woman, Debra Baker in Austin in 1988, whose case until that point had remained unsolved. Like Morton, she had been beaten to death in her bed. She lived just a few blocked away from Norwood at the time of her death.
At the conclusion of a year-long investigation, a disciplinary petition was filed by the State Bar of Texas against Ken Anderson, the prosecutor in the Morton murder case, and now a Texas district judge(!) in Williamson County.
The disciplinary petition alleged he withheld vital evidence from Morton’s attorneys, including a transcript of an August 1986 interview with the lead investigator and Christine Morton’s mother. During this interview, she stated the Mortons’ three-year-old son had described to her in great detail how he’d watched his mother’s murder take place and told his grandmother his father was not home at the time.
During the subsequent investigation on Anderson’s conduct, the court of inquiry ended up ordering Judge Anderson to be placed under arrest. If Anderson is convicted (in this ongoing case), he is facing up to 10 years in prison.
As the court of inquiry stated:
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.
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