Michael Morton was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for the murder of his wife, Christine Morton. The allegation by the prosecutors was that Morton beat his wife to death because she rejected his romantic overtures on his birthday. He served 25 years behind bars, despite the existence of DNA evidence that would have shown him to be innocent. But there was a problem with that: the evidence that would have acquitted Michael Morton was never turned over to Morton’s attorneys and was, in fact, covered up by the attorney who fought to prosecute and convict Morton – Ken Anderson, who is now a judge.
A search of a nationwide criminal database netted quick results – the DNA on a bandana found behind Morton’s home contained his wife’s skin cells and the blood of Mark Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher. Norwood has now been indicted for the murders of Christine Morton and an Austin woman a year and a half later.
Michael Morton was freed in 2011, but there were some loose ends to tie up – the bringing of justice. Last week, Judge Anderson, 60, got his own day in court; he was forced to sit in a Georgetown courtroom and endure an unusual five-day court of inquiry as another judge heard argument against him.
Apparently Anderson has a huge gap in his memory. He testified repeatedly that he had almost no recollection of Morton’s trial or even the case. He could not envision wrong-doing by himself or his office, however, and was certain that had there been evidence, he would have turned it over to Morton’s attorneys. The evidence included a police report filed by Morton’s neighbors that stated that they witnessed a suspicious man parking a green van near the Morton’s home and walking into the woods behind the home shortly before the murder of Christine Morton.
Perhaps even more importantly, the concealed evidence contained the transcript of a conversation between the Morton’s three-year-old son, Eric, and his grandmother, Christine Morton’s mother. Eric’s account, as told by his grandmother, nearly identically matched the evidence. The child gave a descriptive account of the “monster” with a “big mustache” who he witnessed beating his mother to death – and he specifically said that the ‘monster’ was not his father.
As he sat on the stand with a box of tissue, Anderson began to cry as he continued to protest his innocence (crying…seriously???).
“The office I ran was professional. It was competent. We did things right. We got it right.”
Wrong. They didn’t do anything right. A professional does not cover up evidence and send an innocent man to prison. A professional doesn’t convict and lock up the wrong man – deliberately – and let a murderer run free; a murderer who killed another woman less than two years later.
As Morton himself said, people get into a position of power and they think nothing can touch them – they can actually become so isolated and detached that it’s possible for them to believe their own fabrications and conceptions. Michael Morton was calm as he spoke with the voice of a man who has learned patience and resilience from 25 years of enduring the blame – behind bars – for the murder of the woman he loved.
“I think we saw someone who is still struggling with denial and anger, a man who has spent at least three decades in power who for the first time is having to answer for his actions.” (Rick Casey - Express News & My San Antonio)
Judge Anderson never saw past his own conceptions and fabrications; even at the end, he maintained that he was completely faultless in the cover-up…and honestly? He may have truly convinced himself of that. He expressed not a single shred of remorse and his only concern was the damage that had been done to his own reputation in the community. He mourned the loss of money spent to defend himself against allegations “so bogus it is unreal.” (Texas Tribune)
“I had to spend the money to hire lawyers. And I worked my entire life and now they have it,” he said. (Texas Tribune)
Anderson’s attorney, former prosecutor Eric Nichols, instructed him to share his feelings with Morton and tell him how he felt after being subjected to “false accusations.” Anderson turned to Morton, who was seated with his mother and his fiance, and proceeded to blame it on “the system”:
“I apologize that the system screwed up. It obviously screwed up,” he said.
“I know what me and my family have been through in the last 18 months, and it’s hell,” Anderson said. “And it doesn’t even register in the same ballpark as what you went through, Mr. Morton, so I don’t know that I can say I feel your pain [no, you can't], but I have a pretty darn good idea how horrible what we’ve gone through for 18 months has been, with false accusations and everything else, and what happened to you is so much worse than that. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.
“I’ve beaten myself up on what could have been done different, and I frankly don’t know,” he said. (Texas Tribune)
Really? Well Rick Casey, writer for the Express-News and host of “Texas Week with Rick Casey,” has some thoughts on what Anderson and his professional office could have done differently.
He could have told the sheriff’s office to pursue the neighbors’ accounts of a suspicious man nosing about early in the morning.
He could have taken the 3-year-old boy seriously and laughed at the lead investigator’s preposterous theory. Instead, Anderson joined the investigator in believing that Morton had flown into a murderous rage when his wife fell asleep while he sought to have sex. But before killing her, he put on his scuba diving wet suit to disguise himself from his son.
And Anderson could have chosen not to take the extraordinary step of keeping his lead investigator from testifying at trial. Under the rules he would have had to turn over to the defense the report of the stranger and the transcript of the grandmother’s account of what the boy saw. (Rick Casey – Express News & My San Antonio)
The Texas Bar Association sued Anderson for withholding of evidence. Possible penalties could be public reprimand and/or disbarment. Wow. That’s it? Really? He destroys a man’s life, and his punishment is embarrassment, a public scolding, and disbarment at an age when he is probably ready to retire anyhow.
Anderson will likely not be convicted of a crime, but one thing is clear: Anderson, clearly and without question, withheld evidence that would have saved an innocent man, and as a result, he did his part to ensure that justice was not served for Michael and Christine Morton. It is this, rather than a long and successful career in criminal justice, that will – in the end - define Ken Anderson.
To further research and study this case, a full library of articles is available online at The Texas Tribune.
I am an unapologetic member of the Christian Left, and have spent a lot of time working with “the least of these” and disadvantaged and oppressed populations. I’m passionate about their struggles. To stay on top of topics I discuss, subscribe to my public updates on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, or connect with me via LinkedIn. I also have a grossly neglected blog. Find me somewhere and let’s discuss stuff.