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Morton Investigator, Medical Examiner Testimony Released

Testimony from the Williamson County sergeant who led the investigation that resulted in Michael Morton's wrongful conviction was made public Friday, along with statements of the medical examiner refuting allegations prosecutors made during the trial.

Michael Morton sits beside his mother, Patricia Morton, during an emotional press conference after a judge agreed to release him on personal bond after he spent nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife.

[Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to provide additional context and details from the testimony.]

The former sergeant who led the investigation that resulted in Michael Morton's wrongful conviction in 1987 told lawyers last week that then-District Attorney Ken Anderson wanted to see every report that investigators made as they tried to determine who brutally murdered Christine Morton. If there was information in the file about leads that could have indicated someone else was the killer, retired Williamson County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Don Wood indicated, Anderson would have had access to those details.

Wood provided testimony as part of an ongoing investigation into whether Williamson County officials intentionally withheld information that could have prevented Morton's conviction and life sentence. His statements indicate that Anderson, who is now a Williamson County district judge, would have known about clues that indicated Morton was not the killer. Wood's transcript was made public Friday, along with a statement from the medical examiner in the case refuting allegations that prosecutors made during trial about scientific evidence that proved Morton was the killer.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals officially exonerated Morton last month after DNA evidence revealed that another man was likely responsible for the 1986 killing of his wife, Christine Morton. Morton was released after spending nearly 25 years in prison.

Morton's attorneys — John Raley of the Houston law firm Raley & Bowick and lawyers at the New York-based Innocence Project — allege that the Williamson County district attorney's office intentionally withheld a transcript in which Christine Morton’s mother told Wood that the couple’s 3-year-old son, Eric, saw a "monster" who was not his father brutally attack his mother.

The defense attorneys also claim prosecutors withheld information about Christine Morton's credit card being used and a check being cashed with her forged signature days after her death.

In court documents, the former prosecutors — Anderson and former assistant district attorney Mike Davis — have denied wrongdoing.

The original trial judge ordered the district attorney's office in 1987 to allow him to review any evidence that might help exonerate Morton. Lawyers for Morton became suspicious that prosecutors had withheld information from the judge when jurors reported to them that Davis told them after the trial that there was an inch-thick stack of police reports that jurors never saw that could have raised more doubt about Morton's guilt. His lawyers asked for a new trial, but the request was denied. 

Morton's lawyers discovered this year that the transcript, the credit card, check cashing reports and information about witnesses who saw a suspicious van scouting the neighborhood were not provided to the judge. The file contained only a few pages of initial police reports.

In his hours-long deposition, Wood told Raley that he recalled that he compiled a stack nearly four inches tall of investigative reports. Wood said he remembered few details from the investigation more than two decades ago, but he did recall how he worked as an investigator. Investigators would have followed up on leads like the use of Christine Morton's credit card and the check cashed after her death. They would have reported their findings and included them in a file that Anderson would have had access to as district attorney. 

"I turned over everything I had," Wood said.

Wood, 72, who has had several strokes and has diabetes, said he did not recall discussing his investigation with Anderson. 

However, Wood said he gave detailed daily reports about the Morton investigation to his boss, then-Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell. And Boutwell, he said, had a close relationship with Anderson. "I don't know how much he talked to Ken, but I know they were close and met pretty frequently and would go have coffee and whatnot," Wood said.

He described Anderson as the kind of attorney who would want to see every report in the file. "He wanted copies of everything," Wood said. "I know that."

Wood said he had expected to testify during Morton's trial about his investigation until just a couple of hours before the trial began. He was surprised, he said, when Boutwell said he would be assuming the lead role and testifying about the Morton investigation.

"I was fully expecting to go to trial, and I knew it was going to be a long one," Wood said.

Despite the recent developments and the court's exoneration, Wood said that he still believes Morton killed his wife. He conceded, though, that he doesn't read the papers much and that he had been out of state when developments about the DNA that exonerated Morton became public.

In his sworn statement, Dr. Roberto Bayardo, the medical examiner in the case, said that Anderson misquoted him during Morton's trial. Anderson told the jurors that Bayardo said that the condition of the contents inside Christine Morton's stomach meant that she had been killed before her husband left for work.

Morton had argued that someone must have entered the house and attacked his wife after he left for work around 5:30 a.m. But during closing arguments, Anderson said that Bayardo's conclusion "makes Michael Morton scientifically proved as the killer of his wife."

Bayardo said in a statement on Oct. 3 that he repeatedly told the jury his estimate was not scientific and not precise. "I'm very much disturbed because that's not what I meant to say at the time of the trial," Bayardo said.

Morton's lawyers have also deposed Anderson and Davis, and their transcripts are expected to be released soon.

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Courts Criminal justice Michael Morton Texas Court Of Criminal Appeals