60 Minutes: Evidence Of Innocence
We’ve all heard cases before where people who were wrongfully accused finally find justice. But in the case of Michael Morton, his story has turned the tables and put a prosecutor under scrutiny for misconduct. Lara Logan originally recounted his story for a spring 2012 report on 60 Minutes.
60 Minutes: Michael Morton Trial
Michael Morton did not even have a criminal record before he was sent to prison for life in the late 1980s. That is because he was convicted of murdering his wife. But he maintained his innocence, even as he was led away to prison, telling reporters, “I did not do this.”
It would be 25 years before people really started to take him seriously. After all that time behind bars, Michael Morton was able to walk free, thanks to DNA evidence that exonerated him. He said it “wasn’t quite real” to step back into civilian life after being locked away for so long.
60 Minutes: Christine Morton Murder
Michael Morton also said he never had the chance to grieve over his wife’s murder before he was being accused. In the summer of 1986, a neighbor of the Mortons found their son alone in the yard. Inside the house, Morton’s wife Christine had been bludgeoned to death.
Suspicions immediately turned to Morton, whom the prosecutor decided had attacked his wife because she would not sleep with him. Six weeks after the murder, authorities literally ripped his son from his arms and led him away.
District attorney Ken Anderson was the prosecutor in his case. Despite the fact that there was no murder weapon or other evidence linking the widower to this murder, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
60 Minutes: Michael Morton Innocence Project
Even back then, Morton’s original trial lawyers believed that they were not getting all the evidence they were entitled to under the law. Many years later, with the help of lawyer John Raley, and The Innocence Project’s Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison, the original files were finally uncovered.
Raley told Lara Logan that the documents in the file would have totally exonerated Morton. The police report included a statement from Christine’s mother, who said that the Mortons’ son gave a detailed account about the monster with a big moustache who killed his mother.
Another neighbor reported to police that a suspicious man parked on the street and walked toward a wooded area. According to Scheck, this is the type of exculpatory evidence prosecutors are required to share with the defense team to provide for a fair trial.
60 Minutes: Texas Judge Ken Anderson
As for the prosecutor, Ken Anderson, he was named Texas prosecutor of the year and in 2002 was appointed as a district judge, presiding over the same court that took 25 years of an innocent man’s life.
You can imagine that Morton did not have an easy time in prison, where the food and accommodations are not meant to be luxurious. But he persevered, biding time between visits with his son every six months.
As a teenager, his son decided not to visit anymore. By 18, Eric asked to be adopted by his aunt and uncle and decided to change his name. His father was heartbroken.
60 Minutes: Michael Morton DNA
In fall 2011, DNA evidence finally came to light that cleared Morton’s name. A bloody bandanna from near the crime scene contained blood from the victim, as well as convicted felon Mark Alan Norwood, who was later arrested for Christine’s murder.
His DNA also matches another young woman’s murder, which took place after Christine was killed. This means that by failing to go after the real killer, the justice system cost another woman her life.
Raley and Scheck told 60 Minutes they think Anderson intentionally withheld evidence in Morton’s case. Though he could not speculate specifically about a motive for this, Scheck said he thinks in a larger sense that “people break rules ‘cause they wanna win.”
60 Minutes: Withholding Evidence
Anderson admitted to making a mistake in a 2011 press conference, but denied allegations of misconduct. He insisted under oath that he did tell the original defense team about all the evidence.
Anderson’s lawyer, Eric Nichols, dismissed the idea that this missing evidence would have been enough to get Morton off the hook at trial. The original trial lawyers disagreed, saying they never knew about the evidence that the Mortons’ son witnessed the crime.
60 Minutes: Prosecutors Absolute Immunity
In a highly unusual move, a Texas judge agreed that there was probable cause to say that Anderson broke the law, and formed a special criminal inquiry to investigate further.
What’s interesting is that prosecutors are very well insulated from any fallout over their workplace conduct. They are rarely criminally charged or even disciplined, and the Supreme Court has ruled they cannot be sued–they have absolute immunity in regards to their job duties.
Do you think it’s fair that prosecutors are held to a different standard? The same rules do not apply to doctors, police, or lawyers. Nichols said that immunity was necessary because of the difficult judgments prosecutors are required to make.
60 Minutes: Justice For The Wrongfully Convicted
“The legacy of this case…should not be an effort to vilify prosecutors,” Nichols said. Scheck said he believed that prosecutorial misconduct is rare, but it does happen. Lara Logan mentioned other cases in everywhere from Alaska to Louisiana where evidence was withheld.
“If you…were hiding evidence from a homicide investigation, they’d lock you up in a minute,” Morton said, adding that he has let go of his anger. Since being released, he has received almost $2 million from a Texas fund for the wrongfully convicted.
He also had the chance to reunite with his son, who is now a father himself. His goal is accountability for the justice system, so that what happened to him cannot happen to anyone else.
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