Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley this morning announced the appointment of the Texas Attorney General's office as special prosecutor in the Michael Morton case and the ongoing investigation and possible prosecution of any new suspect in the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. A special grand jury is also being formed to investigate and hear any witnesses related to the case, he said.
“Given the complexities and age of the Morton case, I wanted to make sure that we had an office and a special prosecutor with substantial experience who could carry this case forward,” Bradley said in a statement.
Morton was exonerated last week of the 1986 bludgeoning death of his wife. DNA found near the scene of her murder matched biological material found at the scene of another murder in 1988. Debra Masters Baker was killed a year and a half after Morton in a very similar fashion just 12 miles from where Morton was found dead in her bed.
DNA on a bandana found near the Morton murder was tested last year, after Bradley objected to the analysis for six years. Morton was released from prison after nearly 25 years when the DNA matched that found at the scene of the other crime. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals last week granted Morton's motion to reverse the conviction based on DNA evidence.
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But Morton's lawyers allege that there was much more evidence besides the DNA that could have exonerated Morton from the outset. They argue 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.
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. Bradley said his office will remain involved in an ongoing investigation into allegations that the original prosecutors (Anderson and Mike Davis) withheld information.
"I encourage Mr. Anderson and Mr. Davis to provide Mr. Morton with an explanation of what happened 25 years ago during the discovery process for his trial,” Bradley said in the statement. “The Sheriff at the time of the original investigation (Jim Boutwell) is dead. The judge at the time of the trial (William S. Lott) is dead. And the original lead investigator (Don Wood) has medical problems that interfere with his memory. That leaves only Mr. Anderson, who was the District Attorney, and Mr. Davis, who was an assistant district attorney, to provide some explanation of the discovery process.”
John Raley, a pro bono lawyer with the Houston firm Raley & Bowlick who has worked on the case for six years, said that Morton has a personal interest in seeing that justice is done. Raley said Morton and his lawyers will want to to consult with Attorney General Greg Abbott's office as the investigation continues.
“We welcome Mr. Bradley’s pledge of cooperation with our investigation into the allegations that exculpatory evidence was hidden from Mr. Morton and the trial court, and trust there will be no more misunderstandings as that process goes forward,” Raley said in an emailed statement.
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