Wrongful Conviction of Michael Morton Leads to Allegations of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Numerous wrongful convictions have come to light in Texas over recent years but few are more stark than that of Michael Morton.

In November, 2011, a grand jury in Travis County, Texas, indicted Mark Norwood on capital murder charges related to the killing of Debra Baker in 1988.

Norwood is also awaiting trial on murder charges in the death of Christine Morton in 1986.

“The apprehension of the man whose DNA is allegedly linked to both murders was delayed more than two decades by the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton, Christine’s husband, who served 25 years in prison for the crime he always said he did not commit,” reported the Wrongful Convictions Blog.

The article highlights not only a terrible wrongful conviction but the fact Baker would probably be alive today had police not picked up the wrong man.

This story is bad enough on face value. It gets even worse given claims that powerful evidence supporting Michael Morton’s innocence was apparent available to prosecutors shortly after Christine Morton’s homicide, but prosecutors allegedly did not share this key information with defense attorneys, as they are required to under Brady vs. Maryland.

Major similarities were apparent in the two killings. Both of the women were bludgeoned to death in their beds in the early hours of the morning. Both of them were young mothers of young children who were later raised by other family members.

The report in the blog alluded to the high profile nature of the case when Williamson County Prosecutor John Bradley fought for six years against Morton’s lawyers’ and the Innocence Project’s efforts to carry out DNA testing on a bloody bandana found close to the Morton home.

It’s hard to see why a prosecutor would take such a stance, given what we know about the accuracy of DNA testing. Prosecutors maintained DNA testing would make no difference to the case.

In the event it did. DNA on the bandana linked both to Christine Morton and Norwood, who was a known felon. Norwood has denied involvement in both murders.
Bradley is not the only prosecutor to face questions. Ken Anderson, who is now a district judge, is defending himself from charges that he did not meet his obligations to share evidence of Michael Morton’s innocence.

The State Bar of Texas’s lawsuit against him alleges he violated professional conduct rules by withholding items of evidence.

Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct are more common in Texas than many people believe. Had it not been for the advent of DNA some may never have come to light.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.