GEORGETOWN — Former prosecutor Ken Anderson said on Wednesday that he feels sick over Michael Morton's wrongful conviction and the 25 years Morton spent in prison. But Anderson strenuously denied allegations that he intentionally withheld information that could have prevented the conviction and stopped Christine Morton's real murderer from killing again.
"In my heart, I know there was no misconduct whatsoever," Anderson said to a crowd of reporters and television cameras gathered outside the Williamson County courthouse, where he now serves as a state district judge.
Anderson was the Williamson County district attorney and prosecuted Michael Morton for murder in 1987. Morton received a life sentence after the jury found him guilty of killing his wife, Christine, in 1986. Morton recently was freed after serving nearly 25 years when DNA evidence revealed that another man was the killer.
According to court filings, the biological material matched the DNA of Mark Alan Norwood, a 57-year-old Bastrop resident, who was arrested last week and charged with Christine Morton's murder. In the 1980s, Norwood worked as a carpet layer and lived within miles of the Morton home and just a few blocks from the house where another woman, Debra Masters Baker, was murdered in 1988. Norwood's DNA was also found on hair at the scene of Baker's murder, according to court filings.
But Morton's lawyers contend it shouldn't have taken DNA evidence to raise serious doubts about their client's guilt. They argue that Anderson's office had other evidence that pointed to another person as the killer back in 1987, and they hid it.
Since Morton was freed last month, his lawyers have been investigating whether Anderson, who was appointed judge of the 277th Williamson County district court in 2002 by Gov. Rick Perry, committed prosecutorial misconduct by suppressing evidence that indicated Morton was innocent.
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 a sheriff's investigator that the couple’s 3-year-old son, Eric, saw a "monster" with a big mustache 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. They also never saw reports from Morton's neighbors about a green van that had been spotted several times in the neighborhood. The driver would get out and go into the woods behind the Morton home, they told police.
In 1987, the original trial judge ordered Anderson to allow him to review any evidence that might potentially exonerate Morton. Lawyers for Morton became suspicious that prosecutors had withheld information from the judge when jurors reported to them that Mike Davis, the the assistant district attorney, 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.
Anderson said he didn't remember everything that transpired a quarter century ago but that he was sure he did not intentionally withhold information. He said he wouldn't have prosecuted Morton if he hadn't been convinced of his guilt.
Based on his review of the trial record, Anderson said his team fully complied with the judge's orders and with the law that existed in 1987.
"The system failed," he said. "We got it wrong. That's just something I'm going to have to deal with."
Anderson said he is anguished over the Morton case and that his "hope and prayer" is that Morton will be able to move on with his life.
For Caitlin Baker, the daughter of Debra Baker, Anderson's self-flagellation was cold comfort. She came to the courthouse to hear Anderson's remarks.
Baker said she believes Anderson is partly to blame for her mother's murder, which happened three days before her 4th birthday.
"He let Norwood go," Baker said. "He didn't do his job."
She was disappointed to hear that Anderson isn't holding himself accountable for Morton's wrongful conviction or her mother's death.
"I don't care how he feels," Baker said. "If he really feels bad then he should resign. Prove it."
Video of Anderson's press conference follows.