A Texas Court of Inquiry, which was convened to examine whether former District Attorney Ken Anderson committed prosecutorial misconduct in the now infamous case of Michael Morton, has come to a close. Courts of Inquiry are rarely used in Texas, but establishing a tribunal to evaluate whether alleged prosecutorial misconduct might amount to criminal charges is near unheard of around the country. Unlike innocence commissions, the sole purpose of the Texas Court of Inquiry, which spent last week investigating claims that former District Attorney-turned-Judge Ken Anderson deliberately suppressed evidence which would have helped Morton prove his innocence at trial, was to determine what level of criminal culpability, if any, should be attributed to Anderson.
Here’s a quick recap of the evidence at issue, taken from an Austin America-Statesman article:
- Two transcripts of a police interview with Christine Morton’s mother, Rita Kirkpatrick, who revealed that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son Eric witnessed the murder and said Michael Morton wasn’t home at the time. One transcript was found in sheriff’s department files, and a shorter version was discovered in Anderson’s trial file.
- A police report about suspicious behavior by an unidentified driver of a green van who, a neighbor said, on several occasions parked and walked into the wooded area behind the Morton house. A copy of the report also was found in Anderson’s trial file.
- A note to Sgt. Don Wood, the sheriff’s lead investigator, indicating that Christine Morton’s credit card might have been used in San Antonio two days after her death.
- A police report saying a $20 check made out to Christine Morton had been cashed a week after her death. This report has since been revealed to be innocuous; bank records showed it was Michael Morton who cashed the check. Morton recently said he didn’t remember doing so.
Below is a summary of what happened when this evidence was discussed at the Court of Inquiry, based on Brandi Grissom’s coverage in the Texas Tribune. If you are interested in the case, Grissom’s articles are worth reading in full, and there are links to each provided below.
On the first day of Williamson County state district Judge Ken Anderson’s court of inquiry Monday, Michael Morton spent more than five hours on the witness stand, getting emotional at times as he hashed over the mistakes that led to his wrongful murder conviction and almost 25 years in prison…
In the report to the court requesting the court of inquiry, Morton’s lawyers alleged that prosecutors withheld five critical items. Among them was a check made out to Christine Morton that they alleged had been cashed with her forged signature after her death. They also alleged that her credit card was used fraudulently at a jewelry store in San Antonio days after she was murdered. Since that time, Morton’s lawyers discovered that the check was deposited by Morton and that his wife’s purse with the credit cards in it was never stolen.
Hardin said that it doesn’t matter whether the information eventually turned out not to be helpful to Morton’s case. The information should have been turned over to his lawyers so they could have determined that themselves.
Most of Tuesday was taken up by the airing of an eight-hour deposition of Anderson that Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck conducted in October and November of 2011…
A former employee of Williamson County state district Judge Ken Anderson said Tuesday that in 1987, her boss, then the prosecutor, leaned up against a door jam in the historic Williamson County Courthouse, crossed his arms and said, “The kid thinks a monster killed his mother”…
Anderson, she said, knew that Eric had said he saw a monster, not his father commit the murder, and had discussed a trial strategy to explain that what the little boy had seen was really his father dressed in a skin diving suit…
The point of Anderson’s conversation about Eric seeing the monster, Gardner said, was not to keep that information away from Morton’s lawyers but to determine whether the boy’s statements could be used at trial. He was too young to testify, and if his grandmother talked about what Eric said on the stand, it would be considered hearsay. She said the prosecutors in the office agreed the boy’s statements wouldn’t be admissible.
In some of the most dramatic testimony of the day, Hardin read from a pre-trial transcript an argument between Anderson and defense lawyers in 1987. The reading came during questioning of County Court at Law Judge Doug Arnold, a former prosecutor who worked under Anderson. Arnold said he had considered Anderson an ethical prosecutor, and he asked his former boss to swear him in when he became a judge in 2010. In the passage Hardin read, Anderson told Judge William Lott that he would rather strike his own witness than give the defense lawyers notes he would have to turn over if she testified…
Under questioning from Hardin, Bill White and Bill Allison — Morton’s trial lawyers — said Anderson turned over precious little information to them despite their requests. They also said that contrary to Anderson’s statements, the prosecutor did not tell them about critical evidence, either…
During questioning of Allison, Eric Nichols, another lawyer for Anderson, argued strenuously that the judge overseeing the 1987 case had ordered Anderson to only turn over a single report from the day of the murder.
Allison told Nichols that he couldn’t produce a written order from Judge Lott that would have required Anderson to turn over all the reports from the lead investigator in the case. And that is a key question in the case — whether Anderson violated a judge’s order to turn over evidence.
A day punctuated by histrionics and anguish in the courtroom was capped off Thursday with at times confounding testimony from Judge Ken Anderson’s protege, co-author and friend, former Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley. The ex-prosecutor backed away from previous damning statements he made about his former boss’s role in Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction, and on the stand said Anderson had not violated a judge’s order to turn over evidence in the 1987 trial….
Mark Landrum, the jury foreman who was 26 at the time of the trial, told the court that some of the withheld evidence could have dramatically affected the jury’s decision…
In a December 2011 affidavit, and in a November 2011 interview with The Texas Tribune, Bradley said he had concluded that his former boss had violated the judge’s order by not turning over all the investigators’ reports in Morton’s case. On the stand Thursday, Bradley said he had since changed his mind after reviewing the judge’s notes and more records from the case. He said the judge made no such order.
Defiant, angry and frustrated, former prosecutor Ken Anderson took the stand on Friday to defend himself, ending a week of dramatic testimony in an usual court of inquiry that is examining whether the former district attorney committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton.
Anderson insisted that there was no judge’s order requiring him to turn over that evidence. He also argued that although he was not required under law or by a judge’s order to give Morton’s lawyers the transcript or the green van report that he must have told them about it. He said he had no “independent recollection” of doing so, but faulted Morton’s lawyers for not following up on the information…
“How could a former prosecutor who cares so deeply about children not remember anything about a child seeing his mother killed in a case that he prosecuted? How could that be?” Hardin asked incredulously.
“I have no recollection of a particular piece of evidence of that nature or in that detail,” Anderson said.
Friday’s dramatic and at times awkward testimony marked the crescendo of a week of emotional testimony in a case that has gripped national headlines since August 2011, when DNA showed Morton was innocent.
For the background to the Anderson Court of Inquiry and more about the Michael Morton case, read an earlier blog post.