GEORGETOWN — Travis County prosecutors on Monday provided “powerful evidence” to a Williamson County district court that could be crucial in exonerating Michael Morton of the 1986 murder of his wife.
“I would assume that this information would take away any concerns whatsoever” about Morton’s innocence, said his attorney, John Raley, of Houston, who has been working on the case since 2003. In 1987, Morton was convicted of killing his wife, Christine Morton, in their Williamson County home and sentenced to life in prison.
At a hearing on Monday, Bexar County District Judge Sid Harle presented Morton’s lawyers and lawyers from District Attorney John Bradley’s office with new information from a case pending in Travis County. Because the case is pending, the judge and attorneys would not reveal the nature of the information or the names of individuals involved. But the information seemed to reinforce evidence Morton’s lawyers say shows that he is innocent.
Travis County assistant district attorney Buddy Meyer said his office would not comment on the information.
“As was revealed in Williamson County today," he said, "the Travis County District Attorney's office has a pending criminal investigation and because of legal and ethical obligations our office disclosed information concerning that investigation to Judge Harle."
“This is very powerful evidence your honor. Wow,” said Raley, adding that his client should be immediately released from prison based on the discovery. He said he expected the Williamson County district attorney's office to assist in preparing court filings indicating that Morton is innocent of murder.
But lawyers for Bradley's office said they wanted a hearing to further develop the information. “I think there are still issues that need to be resolved,” said Lindsay Roberts, first assistant district attorney.
At Morton's original trial, prosecutors told jurors that he bludgeoned his wife to death because he was upset that she had fallen asleep instead of having sex with him the previous night after celebrating his birthday.
Last month, Morton’s lawyers with the New York-based Innocence Project announced that they had discovered DNA on a bandana found near the crime scene that excluded him as his wife’s killer. The DNA, they said, belongs to a felon who is not in custody.
Morton's attorneys argued that Bradley, the former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, deliberately withheld evidence that could have proved Morton did not kill his wife. Among the items withheld, they said, was the transcript of a telephone conversation between Morton’s mother-in-law and a sheriff’s deputy soon after the murder. In that conversation, Rita Kirkpatrick explained in vivid detail to the officer that Morton’s 3-year-old son, Eric Morton, watched the murder and that the “monster” he saw hurting his mother was not his father.
Morton has always maintained his innocence, suggesting that an intruder must have killed his wife, who was found dead in their bed, after he had left the house for work.
Morton and his lawyers tried to obtain DNA and other evidence from prosecutors for more than six years. Bradley and his office steadfastly fought those requests until the Texas Third Court of Appeals granted DNA testing on the bandana last year. In June, Morton’s lawyer’s received results that they said show that the victim’s blood and hair were mingled with the DNA from a man who was not Morton.
Harle said the court would reconvene next Monday to discuss further investigation of the case.