The story of exoneree Michael Morton from Texas continues with two recent developments. On March 27, Mark Alan Norwood, identified by DNA testing as the real perpetrator, was convicted of killing Morton’s wife. Now, a Texas judge has ruled that the prosecutor in Morton’s case must face charges of criminal contempt and tampering.
In 1986, when Christine Morton was found murdered in her home, prosecutors immediately suspected her husband Michael. Morton professed his innocence but was convicted anyway. Over 20 years later, DNA testing proved that Morton did not commit the crime and, in fact, matched another man, Mark Alan Norwood. Evidence introduced at the trial also showed that Norwood was implicated in the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker after police found his DNA at the crime scene. There were several similarities between the Baker and Morton murders. Norwood was found guilty after only three hours of deliberation.
Afterwards, the media reported the reactions of Morton and Norwood’s brother: ”Outside the courthouse, Michael soberly told the assembled reporters, “It’s not a celebration, it’s not a happy day,” he said. “There’s that feeling of ‘finally.’” Enough time had passed since Christine’s murder, he added, that they were at peace. “It has helped us heal, so we can go on without much animosity or anger,” he said. Afterward, Norwood’s brother, Dale, who has attended every day of the trial, approached Michael and reached out for him. “I’m sorry,” he choked out as he rested his head against Michael’s. “I’m so sorry.””
Shortly after Norwood’s conviction, a judge ruled that the prosecutor in Morton’s case, Ken Anderson, acted improperly in the case and must face charges of criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence, and tampering with government records. The ruling resulted from testimony given during a weeklong Court of Inquiry held in February. The Inquiry is rarely used and only in cases of wrongdoing by public officials.
The Texas Monthly reports that the special prosecutor, Rusty Hardin, presented evidence that Anderson failed to turn over evidence to Morton’s defense team. ”Among the evidence Morton’s attorneys claim was kept from them were statements from Morton’s then-3-year-old son, who witnessed the murder and said his father wasn’t responsible and interviews with neighbors who told authorities they saw a man park a green van close the Morton home and walk into a nearby wooded area before the slaying.” Anderson’s response was that he could not remember if he had evidence of Morton’s innocence.
While the indictment of Anderson is justified, the case also shows how difficult it is to hold prosecutors responsible for a wrongful conviction. These past two weeks were probably a lot for Michael Morton to process. But hopefully it will bring him a sense of closure in his case.