Back in 1986, Christine Morton was brutally beaten to death in her home in Williamson County, north of Austin. Her husband, Michael, was convicted of the crime and sentenced to life in prison. However, in 2011, DNA evidence indicated that another man, Mark Allen Norwood, was the actual perpetrator, and Morton was freed that December. At the same time, the Innocence Project, which worked to clear Morton's name, dropped a bombshell--they had evidence that the man who sent Morton to prison, Ken Anderson, committed one of the most ghastly acts of prosecutorial misconduct in modern criminal justice history. They claimed that Anderson willfully failed to turn over exculpatory evidence to Morton's trial attorneys and lied about it. For more on the case, read JekyllnHyde's excellent diary on the case.
Well, today might be Anderson's day of reckoning. Now a district court judge--a post he has held since 2001--Anderson now faces a court of inquiry into his actions in Morton's trial. It could result in Anderson being brought up on criminal charges.
The inquiry will resemble a trial, but with several essential differences.How'd we get here? Back in 2011, Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project were working on Morton's final appeal when they discovered evidence that suggested Anderson failed to turn over evidence that strongly suggested Morton was innocent. Most damningly, Morton's mother-in-law told police that Morton's then three-year-old son saw someone else beating his mother to death. Armed with this evidence, they successfully got Anderson deposed under oath about his role in the initial investigation and trial.
Up to 20 witnesses will be questioned and cross-examined in an effort to reconstruct events before, during and after Morton’s 1987 trial for the murder of his wife, Christine, in their Williamson County home.
But the court of inquiry will not end with a verdict of guilt or innocence for Anderson, who has denied wrongdoing in the case.
Instead, the judge appointed to preside over the court — state District Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth — will determine whether there is reason to believe state laws were broken in the way Anderson prosecuted Morton. If the answer is yes, state law requires Sturns to issue an arrest warrant charging Anderson with one or more crimes, potentially leading to a criminal trial.
In that way, a court of inquiry is closer to a grand jury, which decides whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial.
Scheck and Morrison filed a scathing 138-page report and six more pages of exhibits to support their claim that Anderson flagrantly violated Morton's right to a fair trial. In so doing, Scheck and Morrison argued that Anderson also broke the law by tampering with evidence (by concealing records and documents to keep them from being used as evidence) and tampering with government records (by hiding the police report). They also claim that Anderson should be held in contempt of court for not giving the trial judge the notes from his primary investigator in order to determine if they contained exculpatory evidence. According to the Texas Tribune, Anderson only gave the judge, William Lott--who died in 2009--a few pages of notes. One of Anderson's colleagues on the bench agreed with Scheck and Morrison and ordered the court of inquiry last February.
The Texas Tribune interviewed several people who have dealt with Anderson, and even they find it hard to believe Anderson could potentially have done something this outrageous.
Anderson, who declined through his lawyer to be interviewed for this story, has contested allegations of wrongdoing and has said that he is sick over the wrongful conviction. And those in the Central Texas city of Georgetown, who have known Anderson over the years, say they can’t believe that the church-going Boy Scout troop leader — who tried to steer young people who veered into his courtroom onto a productive path — could do the unethical things he’s accused of doing. Even some defense lawyers who sparred with Anderson in the courtroom say allegations that he behaved underhandedly are hard to fathom.Some of those interviewed appear to lay at least some of the blame on late sheriff Jim Boutwell, who was suspicious of Morton almost from the beginning. Scheck appears to think that Anderson concluded Boutwell had done a slipshod job and discounted much of the evidence he'd gleaned. However, Scheck says, Anderson was obligated to turn that evidence over to the defense--and didn't.
“I never thought of him as acting unethically or in violation of the rules,” said veteran defense lawyer Roy Minton. “I did think of him as being very strong and hard on crime, but that was the history of that county.”
If Sturns finds reason to believe Anderson broke the law, he is required to issue a warrant for Anderson's arrest. And if that happens, Anderson could face as much as 10 years in prison. He could also potentially face a civil suit from Morton. So far, Morton has said that he's only interested in accountability. But from the looks of it, if anyone deserves to be sued into poverty, it's Anderson.
2:18 PM PT: Since this made the rec list, I have to wonder if it wouldn't be too far out of line to have Anderson brought up on federal charges of violating Morton's civil rights as well. One would hope the U.S. Attorney over there, Robert Pitman, is taking a look at it.