Texas Court Of Inquiry To Decide If Prosecutor Lied

A rare "court of inquiry" is underway for a sitting judge in Texas. Judge Ken Anderson faces allegations that as a prosecutor he hid evidence vital to a murder defendant's case. That defendant was convicted of killing his wife, and spent 25 years in prison before being exonerated.

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In Texas, a court of inquiry has been convened to consider prosecuting a Texas judge. He's Ken Anderson. He used to be the district attorney in Williamson County, Texas, and he could face criminal charges for concealing exculpatory evidence. That's evidence that could clear a defendant of guilt. The inquiry concerns his conduct during what has become an infamous case - the prosecution and conviction of Michael Morton. Morton was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife. NPR's Wade Goodwin reports.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Michael Morton spent 25 years languishing in the hellhole of the Texas prison system. In 1986 he was a 32 year old young man with a good job as a department head at Safeway Grocery, a lovely young wife and a three year old son. But one day he went off to work and his life fell to pieces.

A man had been watching them, casing them. After Morton left for work that morning, the man snuck into the house and savagely beat 31 year old Christine Morton to death with a wooden club while young Eric watched. The murderer stole her purse and fled, leaving Eric to wander the front yard.

Although Michael Morton was working at Safeway at the time, Williamson County law enforcement pinned the murder on him, life in prison and his beloved Eric grew up without him, slowly but surely learning to hate his father. From the very beginning of the case, Morton's lawyers believed exculpatory evidence was being kept from them and the court.

And their instincts were right. Now, in this court of inquiry, lawyers from the Innocence Project want to hold the Williamson County district attorney at the time, Ken Anderson, now a Texas judge, accountable for concealing evidence. After a full day of testifying, Michael Morton emerged exhausted but wearing a satisfied look on his face.

MICHAEL MORTON: Today has been kind of tough, kind of emotional. Going through all of that again was difficult but necessary.

GOODWYN: Twenty-five years of his life are gone in blur of bad food, nasty cots, violent inmates and crushing loneliness. But Morton, incredibly, is not bitter. But that doesn't mean he's willing to just let it go.

MORTON: I do not want revenge, but I believe that accountability is very important.

GOODWYN: As for the evidence, neighbors told police that a man in a green van repeated parked in the woods behind the Morton's home and watched the property. And 11 days after the murder, three year old Eric told his grandmother, Christine's mother, that a monster came into the house and hurt mommy.

That the monster was big, that mommy was crying, that mommy stopped crying, get up mommy. When his grandmother asked if Eric's father had been there, the boy said no, it was just Eric and mommy. Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck says knowledge of this evidence would have meant the world to Morton's original criminal defense team, but they didn't find out about its existence until 25 years later.

BARRY SCHECK: The report of the green van is, you know, very important because remember, poor Michael is on trial and they're alleging that somebody must have come in the house through the back door, through the wooded area where there were fingerprints and signs of entry.

And there's no corroboration to back it up for independent witnesses. And there it is sitting the prosecution's file.

GOODWYN: Ken Anderson has said that although he doesn't have a specific memory of turning this evidence over to defense lawyers in this case, it's the kind of evidence he routinely turned over. The case will be decided by a judge who either will or won't recommend Anderson face criminal charges. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Georgetown Texas.


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