Michael Morton was serving nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife that he had not committed. He was convicted in 1987 in Williamson County, Texas, based entirely on circumstantial evidence. As Vincent Simmons’ district attorney, Morton’s prosecutor Ken Anderson had withheld favorable evidence from the defense. Unlike Simmons, Morton was “lucky,” because he is one of those somewhat privileged victims of the system who could prove their innocence through the technology of DNA testing. Morton was exonerated in October of last year.
Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson resigned from his post as Williamson County District Judge by sending Governor Rick Perry a letter on September 23, 2013. According to the Innocence Project newsletter of September 30, 2013, “the state convened a Court of Inquiry to investigate whether Anderson committed criminal acts by failing to turn over evidence pointing to Morton’s Innocence. In April, a Texas judge ruled there was probable cause to believe Anderson violated three criminal laws, and he was charged with the offenses. The Texas Bar Association also brought ethical charges against Anderson. A trial on those charges was scheduled to begin today but was adjourned for a month.”
In the newsletter of November 27, 2013, the Innocence Project reports that “Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson entered a plea to criminal contempt for deliberately withholding exculpatory evidence pointing to the innocence of Michael Morton.” Anderson received 10 days in Williamson County Jail, a $500 fine, 500 hours of community service and permanently surrendered his license to practice law.
The Innocence Project newsletter reads, “This marks an extremely rare instance, and perhaps the first time, that a prosecutor has been criminally punished for failing to turn over exculpatory evidence that led to a wrongful conviction.”
The Innocence Project is cooperating with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association and the Texas Innocence Project to review other cases and determine whether there are more wrongfully convicted prisoners, whom Anderson had prosecuted.
Read more here and here.
If this damage limitation can be called “punishment” is another question. But if an unethical ex-prosecutor and current judge can be stopped this way in Texas, it is possible anywhere. When will it happen in Louisiana?