As I mentioned yesterday, former Williamson County, Texas DA Ken Anderson is facing a formal inquiry into how he handled the prosecution of Christine Morton's 1986 murder. Her husband Michael was initially convicted of beating her to death and served 25 years in prison before DNA evidence proved he was innocent. More ominously, the Innocence Project uncovered evidence that suggested Anderson deliberately sat on information that proved Michael Morton was innocent, even though he was required to turn it over to the defense. If the inquiry finds that Anderson, who is now a district court judge, broke the law, he could be brought up on criminal charges that carry as much as 10 years in prison. For more background information on the case, check out JekyllnHyde's excellent diary from 2011. NPR's Wade Goodwyn also profiled the case this morning on Morning Edition.
When I first heard about the case yesterday morning while listening to an NPR news brief on the way home from work, I wondered the obvious--are there any other people in this Austin suburb who are sitting in jail because Anderson failed to turn over exculpatory evidence? It's hard to believe there aren't, given Texas' somewhat heavy-handed approach to criminal justice. And in this case, it may well have resulted in the real killer being allowed to kill again.
A 2011 DNA test linked Mark Allen Norwood to Christine Morton's murder. He's due to stand trial in San Angelo next month; the trial was moved there due to massive publicity. Later on, police tested the DNA on a blue bandanna found near the Morton home, and found it matched a pubic hair of Norwood's found at the home of Debra Baker, an Austin woman who was murdered in 1988. Like Christine Morton, Baker was brutally beaten to death in her bed. Norwood has also been charged with Baker's murder.
If I'm not mistaken, DNA testing had already advanced enough in 1986 that had the bandanna been tested, it would have proven Morton was not the killer. Additionally, one of the items that Anderson failed to turn over to the defense was a police report of a suspicious guy in a green van seen hanging around Morton's house--a man who, based on all indications, is Norwood. Had Morton's attorneys known about that guy in the van, then police might have pursued that lead. All told, it definitely appears that if Anderson had turned over that evidence, Debra Baker might very well still be alive.
The Bakers were so unnerved by these revelations that they joined Morton in the request for a court of inquiry. Baker's husband, Phillip, was initially under suspicion for his wife's murder. However, he was ultimately cleared--to my mind, in no small part because Travis County DA Ronnie Earle didn't have his head up his ass, unlike Anderson.
The fact that Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison because Anderson violated both the law and his oath as an attorney by itself reason enough to wonder if there are other instances where Anderson shredded the Constitution. But the possibility that Anderson's malfeasance may very well have caused a second murder is absolutely heinous. To my non-lawyer's mind, the Bakers could have a really good case for a wrongful-death suit against Anderson. One commenter in my original diary suggested that Anderson should be indicted as an accessory to murder, but I think that's a stretch. It seems that in order to prove that, you'd have to prove Anderson knew Norwood was the real killer.
One thing's for sure, though--Anderson deserves to be sued into poverty for his actions. After all, given that two families were wrecked as a result of his failure to turn over evidence, no expense should be spared to ensure he answers for what he's done.
Wed Feb 06, 2013 at 6:02 AM PT: Over the Edge mentions Texas Monthly's excellent two-part piece on the case. Read part 1 here and part 2 here. Plus, as proof that Anderson knows he's up against the wall--his lawyers are already arguing the statute of limitations has long since run out. But Morton's lawyers contend that Anderson fraudulently hid the evidence right up until 2011.