Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Prosecutor withholds evidence, destroys innocent lives, allows killer to kill again, becomes a judge--then spends three days in jail

THE CRIMINAL IN THE PROSECUTOR'S CHAIR: Prosecutor Ken Anderson. It's about time the legal system took some action against prosecutors and judges who knowingly destroy innocent lives.

Innocent man: How inmate Michael Morton lost 25 years of his life
By Josh Levs
December 4, 2013

...A few years ago, a group of attorneys, working pro bono on Morton's behalf, managed to bring the truth to light. Not only was Morton innocent, but the prosecutor, Ken Anderson, was accused of withholding crucial evidence.

The little boy, Eric, had seen the attack and told relatives that daddy was not home at the time. He described the man who did it. Neighbors had described a man parking a green van behind the Mortons' house and walking off into a wooded area. A blood-stained bandana was found nearby. None of that evidence made it into the trial.

It took years of fighting, but Morton's attorneys finally got the bandana tested for DNA. It contained Christine Morton's blood and hair and the DNA of another man -- a convicted felon named Mark Norwood.

Norwood had killed Christine Morton. And since no one figured that out after her death, he remained free. He killed another woman in the Austin area, Debra Baker, in similar circumstances less than two years later, authorities say.

Norwood has now been convicted in Morton's killing, and indicted in Baker's killing. A documentary details how Michael Morton -- with help from the Innocence Project -- proved he didn't kill his wife.

Morton was freed in October 2011. He was 57 years old. "I thank God this wasn't a capital case," he said.

Morton's story, told in the CNN Films' documentary "An Unreal Dream," shines a spotlight on wrongful convictions in the United States. More than 2,000 wrongfully convicted people were exonerated between 1989 and 2012, according to data compiled by the University of Michigan Law School.

But Morton's case has paved new ground that could affect cases nationwide.

Last month, Anderson -- Morton's prosecutor who in 2001 became a judge -- pleaded no contest to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence.

Anderson's punishment pales in comparison to Morton's experience. The former prosecutor stepped down from his position as a judge and agreed to 10 days in jail. He then served only five of those days, under Texas laws involving good behavior behind bars.

He also agreed to a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service, and the loss of his law license, according to the Innocence Project, a legal clinic affiliated with Yeshiva University's Cardozo Law School.

It's "an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence," the Innocence Project said.

The "historic precedent demonstrates that when a judge orders a prosecutor to look in his file and disclose exculpatory evidence, deliberate failure to do so is punishable by contempt," said Barry Scheck, the project's co-director.

The organization is working with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Innocence Project of Texas to coordinate a review of Anderson's cases.

Anderson, meanwhile, has not publicly acknowledged any personal wrongdoing. In court, he said he couldn't remember details of the case, and that he and his family have been through false accusations over it.

"I apologize that the system screwed up. I've beaten myself up on what I could have done different and I don't know," he said, acknowledging Morton's "pain."

Morton asked a judge to "do what needs to be done, but at the same time to be gentle with Judge Anderson."

In prepared remarks outside the courthouse, Anderson repeated that he wanted to "formally apologize for the system's failure to Mr. Morton and every other person who was affected by the verdict."

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