Updated: Bradley Withdraws Motion to Rush Morton Case

Michael Morton sits beside his mother, Patricia Morton, during an emotional press conference after a judge today agreed to release him on personal bond after he spent nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife. Recently tested DNA indicates another man committed the 1986 killing.
Michael Morton sits beside his mother, Patricia Morton, during an emotional press conference after a judge today agreed to release him on personal bond after he spent nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife. Recently tested DNA indicates another man committed the 1986 killing.

Updated 4:36 p.m.

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley this afternoon withdrew a motion he filed on Wednesday asking the court to quickly finalize its decision to exonerate Michael Morton.

The filing drew quick criticism from Morton's attorneys, who worried that Bradley was attempting to stymie efforts to investigate allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.

In the two-page withdrawal motion filed today, Bradley wrote that his filing to expedite the dismissal of the case "was a simple misunderstanding of the terms of the agreement" he had made last week with Morton's lawyers.

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Lawyers for Michael Morton, whose 1987 murder conviction was officially overturned on Wednesday, are opposing what they contend is an effort by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley to dismiss the case without a full investigation of alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday granted Morton's motion to reverse the conviction based on DNA evidence that indicated another man bludgeoned his wife, Christine Morton, to death in 1986. Bradley filed a motion a short time later asking the appellate court to quickly finalize the ruling so that the original trial court can dismiss the indictment against Morton.

In his motion, Bradley — who was not the prosecutor at the time of Morton's original trial — wrote that an expedited dismissal would benefit Morton because it would release him from the personal recognizance bond of the court and allow him to "immediately pursue any compensation" from the state for the nearly 25 years he was wrongfully imprisoned.

John Raley, a Houston pro-bono lawyer, and Nina Morrison and Barry Scheck, of the New York-based Innocence Project, however, argue in an unusual court filing opposing Bradley's request that his motives are not purely to help the newly exonerated man move on with his life. The request to hurry-up the process, they indicate, is an effort to stymie an investigation into whether prosecutors intentionally and illegally suppressed evidence that could have prevented Morton's wrongful conviction.

Morton's lawyers allege that the district attorney's office withheld a transcript of a conversation between Rita Kirkpatrick, Christine Morton's mother, and a sheriff's investigator in which she told the officer that Morton's 3-year-old son saw a "monster" who was not his father attack and kill his mother.

They also allege prosecutors withheld information about Christine Morton's credit card being used in San Antonio two days after she was killed and about a check made out to her that was cashed with her forged signature nine days after her death.

Bradley's office has denied allegations of wrongdoing. Ken Anderson, who was the prosecutor at the time of Morton's trial and is now a Williamson County district judge, has not commented publicly.

In an agreement that Morton's lawyers said they negotiated over a three-day period with Bradley, the two sides agreed that an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing would continue while the appeals court was considering the motion to overturn Morton's conviction. If the discovery process was not completed by the time the appellate court issued an order, then the two sides agreed the investigation could continue for at least 30 days. Typically, the court takes a month or longer to issue a decision, but in this case, the court took just a week.

 

In the motion Morton's lawyers filed today, they said that they told Bradley the agreement to continue the investigation of prosecutorial misconduct was a "deal breaker." Morton was prepared to stay in prison awaiting a ruling rather than abandon the investigation.

"Mr. Morton is entitled, at a minimum, to hold the state to its promise to let him make a limited inquiry as to how and why he was wrongfully convicted in the first place," they wrote. "The state should not be permitted to use this court’s procedural rules to short-circuit that process."

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said that Bradley's motion to end the case seemed more like a search for damage control than for justice. "There are serious allegations that must be thoroughly and impartially investigated," Ellis said. "The rush to close the book on this matter makes it seem like those in power have something to hide."

Law enforcement authorities have identified the man whose DNA was on a bandana found near the scene of Christine Morton's murder, and they have matched it to biological evidence found at another Austin murder in 1988. A year and a half after Morton was found beaten to death in her bed, Debra Masters Baker was found bludgeoned to death in her bed, which was about 12 miles away from where the Morton's lived.

Cold case detectives in Travis County matched DNA from the Morton crime to the Baker murder. The man whose DNA is on the evidence, is named only "John Doe" in court documents, and he is not in custody. On Monday, Travis County assistant district attorney Buddy Meyer said the suspect is not yet under arrest and he didn't expect an apprehension in the near future. "It’s a cold case that we now picked up and we’re going forward on and there's a lot of prep work that needs to be done," Meyer said.

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