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November 21st, 2011
Freethought San Marcos: Judge Ken Anderson still can’t tell the truth about the Morton case

Freethought San Marcos: A column

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County District Judge, who wrongfully secured the conviction of Michael Morton 25 years ago for killing his wife Christine, has apologized in a press conference held a few days ago. Anderson’s apology appears taken right out of the Politics 101 Manual–admit that a mistake was made, but explain the mistake away. The first problem with his apology, however, is that he began it with telling a lie.

Anderson said, “Twenty-five years ago, Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife in this very courthouse. The jury’s verdict was based on the evidence as we knew it at the time.” Thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, we now know that the evidence Anderson had available to him at the time of trial, but Morton’s defense attorneys did not have, included a statement made by Morton’s three-year old son to his grandmother that a “monster” with a mustache killed his mother, not Morton. Had defense attorneys been given this information, which Anderson was required by law to reveal, Morton might not have been convicted. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

In addition, Anderson knew that a check to Christine Morton had been cashed nine days after her murder by someone who forged Christine’s signature, but Anderson withheld this evidence from defense attorneys. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

And there was evidence that someone had used Christine Morton’s credit card in San Antonio after she was killed, but Anderson failed to tell defense attorneys, and no law enforcement agency apparently followed up on this information after it was received by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

One final piece of nondisclosed evidence that Anderson knew about or should have known about was a report by a neighbor that around the time of Christine Morton’s murder, he had seen a suspicious person park a green van behind the Mortons’ house on several occasions and walk into the adjacent wooded area. A second neighbor also had information about this suspicious person. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

The Texas Code of Criminal procedure provides that “It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys,. . . not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” In 1963, the US Supreme Court held in Brady v. Maryland that “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused . . . violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Furthermore, Article I, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution gives an accused the same rights recognized in the Brady decision.

And the prosecution has a duty to learn of and disclose the exculpatory evidence in the possession of all members of the prosecution team, which includes the police, other law enforcement agencies, such as the WCSO, and other investigators working with or on behalf of the state. In 1985, the US Supreme Court held that evidence is material “if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceedings would have been different.”

All of the withheld evidence would have met that standard. We know this because immediately after the trial the assistant prosecutor in Morton’s case, Mike Davis, told some of the trial jurors after the trial that the state had failed to disclose some “investigatory materials to the defense.” Davis said that if the defense had gotten the materials, it would have been able to raise even more doubt than it did about Morton’s guilt. (See the Motion for New Trial filed on March 17, 1987, by defense attorney William P. Allison.)

While a bandanna with blood and hair fibers on it was found near the Mortons’ house during the investigation, it provided no help to Morton because DNA testing was in its infancy, but Anderson is using the earlier absence of DNA evidence as a smoke-screen to hide his malfeasance, claiming that this new evidence is all that matters in showing Morton’s innocence. Judge Anderson now wants to pretend that he did nothing wrong and should be forgiven for securing a wrongful conviction, but he fought a subpoena to give testimony under oath for weeks, exhausting all appeals before being compelled to answer questions posed by Morton’s post-conviction attorneys, who represent the Innocence Project. Morton was released from prison a few weeks ago after the DNA evidence on the bandanna implicated another man in his wife’s murder.

This past week, the Austin American-Statesman reported: “On Nov. 9, Williamson County sheriff’s officers charged Mark Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher and former carpet installer, with the murder of Christine Morton. DNA tests conducted last summer found Norwood’s DNA on a bandanna that had been collected from a construction site behind the Morton home the day after the murder. Tests on the cloth were inconclusive in 1986, but the recent DNA tests confirmed that the bandanna also contained Christine Morton’s blood and one of her hairs. Norwood also is a suspect in the 1988 Austin murder of Debra Masters Baker. Like Morton, Baker had been beaten to death in her bed. No charges have been filed in the Baker case, which had remained unsolved.”

Judge Anderson says he believes that 25 years ago he complied with the requirements then in place to disclose evidence that might tend to show the innocence of Morton. After refreshing his memory by reviewing the files that he compiled then, Anderson said, “I believe that the state’s prosecution team complied with all orders from the court and with the law on pretrial discovery and disclosures as it existed in 1987.” Once again, Anderson will not admit the essential wrong-doing that he committed while serving as Williamson County District Attorney.

If Anderson continues to insist that he did nothing wrong 25 years ago, he further diminishes the reputation of another Williamson County district judge, the late Judge Bill Lott, who presided over the Morton trial. Anderson claims that he submitted to Judge Lott files that were not given to the defense for Judge Lott’s review to determine whether they included exculpatory evidence. Judge Lott did not find any exculpatory evidence in the files. If Anderson gave Judge Lott any of the exculpatory evidence discussed above, and Lott ruled it was not exculpatory, he is implicated in this on-going cover-up, as well.

There is nothing new in Anderson’s conduct. For anyone who has spent much time working in what is mistakenly called “the criminal justice system,” misconduct by prosecutors is not only common, but widely known. While prosecutors love to tell jurors that they have a duty to see that justice is done, what they really like to do is convict people of crimes. The less scrupulous ones don’t care about what is termed “exculpatory evidence.” Anderson was one of that kind of prosecutor. He helped build the reputation of the Williamson County District Attorney’s office as a hard-nosed, “hang’em high” fiefdom, destitute of actual justice.

I have known prosecutors who bragged that the milk of human kindness did not flow through their veins. I have seen prosecutors who worked out their own sociopathic tendencies by being as hard, mean, and indifferent to human welfare as the most callous criminal. In fact, prosecuting is one of the professions where sociopathic behavior is regularly rewarded by advancement in the profession and sometimes by election to the position of District Attorney.

Fortunately, not all District Attorneys and prosecutors take out their own personality defects through their work. There are many hard-working, diligent prosecutors who primarily seek justice, not convictions, but Williamson County in recent decades has not produced too many of this kind. Judge Anderson and the current occupant of his former position, John Bradley, have done a disservice to the notion of justice. Bradley fought even the testing of the DNA evidence in Morton’s case until he had exhausted all avenues of interposition.

During this same period, Bradley served as Gov. Rick Perry’s minion as the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in an attempt to keep evidence of Cameron Todd Willingham’s wrongful conviction and execution from being officially acknowledged. Bradley now claims to have had a Damascus Road experience and to be a changed man, following only the path of righteousness as a prosecutor. I’ll believe that when Willingham comes back to life.

The average citizen does not know the level of corruption that can exist in a system such as the Williamson County District Attorney’s office. When a prosecutor is working in a courtroom with a prosecutor-friendly judge, there is nothing that can be done in the prosecution of a defendant that is too extreme. Many defense attorneys are too timid to vigorously defend their clients in such a hostile environment. I have known attorneys who have gone from being prosecutors to defense attorneys and vice versa, and those who have gone from being prosecutors or defense attorneys to being District Attorneys or judges. Most of them do so with integrity and faithfulness to the highest ideals of the profession.

Unfortunately, Ken Anderson and John Bradley do not represent this latter group. They have been comfortable with ignoring the requirements of the law, judicial decisions, and the ethical code they are sworn to uphold, which provides that “The prosecutor in a criminal case shall . . . make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.”

Whatever Ken Anderson says now, the record shows that he failed in his legal and ethical duties in the Morton case. It was a personal moral failure, a professional failure, and a failure to do justice to Michael Morton, Christine Morton, the Mortons’ young son, the entire Morton family, the actual murderer of Christine Morton and Debra Baker, the citizens of Williamson County and the State of Texas, and to the system of justice that Americans believe makes us special among nations. Maybe our system is not so special after all.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

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19 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: Judge Ken Anderson still can’t tell the truth about the Morton case

  1. Given the kind of blood testing that was done in North Carolina at that time, and sanctioned by the accrediting body, ASCLD-LAB, one can only wonder just how “inconclusive” the original testing of the bandana was.

  2. This is so wrong. The State should be held to a high accountability in order to take away anyone’s right. When that duty is so grossly miscarried, and a man is incarcerated- loosing ALL his rights and dignity- because of someones vanity or plain evilness, a counter-balance must be implemented in-order to provide justice for the wronged.

    In this case, I think that the same sentence, and punishment, extracted upon the wronged- Michael Morton- should be carried-out upon the oppressor- Ken Anderson.

    We must demand justice, and diligently and relentlessly pursue “the system of justice that Americans believe makes us special among nations” in-order to keep our system from becoming “not so special after all”.

    This is not an option, I think it must be a moral imperative.

  3. Guess what? When Norwood goes to trial, his lawyers are going to have a field day essentially and once again portraying Morton as the killer. And if you insist on copy and pasting “information” about this supposed credit card and checks then you are going to be wondering what the big deal really was about when the Norwood trial in Williamson or Travis (Travis may have a better case, but we’ll see which trial happens first). And if you listened to the Q&A during the press conference you would have heard the explanation why a 3 year old telling his grandmother something is not admissible. Countless children are molested and the accused goes free because of the believability of the child. Sad, but true. You are entitled to write what you feel to be truth and fact, but since none of us have seen evidence and or court transcripts we only have one side of the story. And that is one of the Innocence Project that is more of a public relations group then anything. So please, before you condemn Anderson why don’t you let the actual facts sway your opinion. Anderson WILL never be found guilty of any wrong doing in the case in ’87. The only thing that will sink him (though I’d be willing to be the house he will not be running again in 3 years) is the 4000 word deposition that he was forced to give to Barry Scheck, which is in John Bradly’s words in the NYT’s new best friend. Anderson and Bradly are not friend any longer after Bradly set up this media circus run by Judge Sid Harle (December 16 is when the true circus will truly start, ie single sided “trial” in WILCO). Friends for 20+ years, written two books together and now selling his former friend and boss down the river in order to save his own ass. In the end, Morton will be given a few million and hopefully be able to find some happiness in this world and hopefully with his son. Anderson will be found innocent of any worng doing by the state bar and will retire as soon as he can (there are too many reasons why he can’t retire now). Norwood may be convicted of one of the murders (IMO, he probably will get off on one of them (Baker having one of his pubic hairs will probably sink him)).
    The only reason I decided to reply to your article is because you are attacking someone without all the facts. “Journalists” like you are also a huge problem. Too often hearsay, jumping to conclusions and opinions cloud thought and judgement. I mean, it’s not like you ever heard of Anderson until Morton’s exoneration anyway. And I’m sure you never interviewed the man.

  4. To Guy with an opinion:

    To be clear, I am not a journalist. I am a columnist. I use my brain, for what its worth, to try to make sense of what is going on. From what is on the public record, it is clear that Anderson withheld evidence that should have been given to Morton’s attorneys. It doesn’t matter whether the evidence was admissible. The law, constitution, and ethics required that it be disclosed for use by Morton’s attorneys. I lived in Georgetown for 11 years, went to college there, knew Bill Lott, and I tried a case before Judge Lott many years ago, so I have more than a passing interest in that part of the state.

  5. While it seems like we disagree on a few fine points, your article was one of the few that points out that Judge Lott (what about Boutwell?) may have at least known about this evidence that was not turned over. As you well know, a DA is not the only person that works on a case. Spotty detective work, the lack of good DNA testing and the fact that Morton wasn’t the nicest person in the world (im not going to slander the man, but if you read the court records, he comes off as a not so nice person), got us to this point. Not to worry, this is far from over. With a circus trial led by Berry Sheck and presided over by Judge Ito, err Harle coming up next month there will be plenty of time to write further columns on this topic.

    Also, you are a journalist in the sence that you investigated an event and wrote a column for the general public about a current event.

  6. How about we de-politicize the judicial system and stop electing judges & DA’s so they don’t have to worry about the “tough on crime” perception and can instead just focus on dispensing justice as objectively as possible? You know, the purpose they are ostensibly there for. That is why the statue on top of the courthouse is blindfolded, right? It makes no sense to me why we still do this today (and yes, I understand the history for why we began the practice), especially with our laughingly uninformed/unengaged citizenry. Personally, I’d be much more content to let our judges and DAs be appointed by the Texas Congress for a period of say five years and let us get a more direct voice in the hiring of a city manager…having said this, I know it will never happen, but what the heck…

  7. To clarify one point. The information I used in my column about the nondisclosed evidence was not based on opinions from the Innocence Project, but on the actual information they received from their earlier Public Information Act request. Nevertheless, any organization that has achieved over 280 exonerations of innocent prisoners (nearly half of whom were on death rows) based on faulty or false evidence is, to me, a credible organization. It operates as a clinic program of the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law.

  8. To: guy with an opinion You state that the court transcripts indicate that Morton was “not so nice a person”, hmmmmm, exactly what type of person deserves to spend 25 years in prison for just being a “not so nice person?” that’s truly a assanine statement. Someone spends 25 years locked away from his family for being a “not so nice a person?” I imagine at times there are people who believe that you are not so “nice a person”. What actually constitutes “not so nice a person?”
    And……it’s “in a sense” NOT sence… need to get a dictionary and spell the words correctly –
    so that you have a better perspective on what it’s like to live the life that Morton has lived for 25 years, try spending just one night in jail – i’m sure there are people who would gladly help you get there —-

  9. Sally Sue: Your lack of proper punctuation and the ability to count is just as glaring as my mistyped word (not words). Furthermore, when there is a murder and there is only one suspect, aspects of your life become magnified. Obviously no person deserves to go to jail for a crime simply because they aren’t nice. The original defense knew about all of the evidence that apparently wasn’t sealed by the judge. They spend two days prepping Eric for the stand. That check that was supposedly forged was a check that was for deposit only (deposited in to Christine’s bank account). I’d be interested to hear from Morton’s original lawyers which have uttered zero words after their former client was exonerated. And in my opinion, being verbally abusive to your wife would rank up there as not nice. That note he left her sometime within the 12 hrs before her death didn’t help. Something to the extent on “you left me hanging you dumb bitch” and “it’s like you farted in my face”. And then there’s a pool of fresh seamen next to your wife’s dead body and the lack of emotion he had once he was told of his wife’s murder. There are good reasons why the jury found him guilty.

    December 19 will be the start of the “trial” for Anderson. At least he will have some rights in the court room. Even though the vast majority of people probably feel he deserves none. Stay tuned. Unless you have already made up your mind.

  10. It does not matter whether Anderson is guilty or not. As with most other government employees at all levels, he was incompetent. The fact is by getting Morton thrown in lie, he let a criminal walk free and that criminal killed again! No different from Michael Dukakis and if he runs again, his opponent should run the Dukakis ad ruthlessly!

  11. 5 years ago when my father was in a geogetown nursing home my step mom took money from a prenuptal protected acount,so i confronted her and she gave back half the money but she had cleaned out his safty deposit box that only he and i were signers on and other accounts, ken anderson was behind me being arested for theft by deception,i had power of attorney and was the exec of his will and did nothing wrong,the arrest warrant should have never been issued,went to court 6 times and was finally dismised .williamson county is not a fair place.looks like karma may catch up with ken anderson sooner than latter.

  12. Having lived in Williamson county for 16 years, where we often said running a stop sign could get you executed, nothing the DA & court system does is surprising. This is an “Old Boys” club run by a bunch of sociopaths only interested in advancing their careers. After I retired I got away from that place as fast as I could.

  13. “Judge” Anderson should spend HIS next 25 years in prison for this absolute crime and miscarriage of justice. But then again, that’s Texas!

  14. sallysue

    It is asinine, not assanine. You berated someone for their spelling, but you also made a spelling error. I just wanted to point that out to you so you do not make that mistake again.

  15. I think the Biblical principle, “You reap what you sow,” is ringing true here. The very fact that alleged “intentional wrongdoing” has been brought out publicly, has started the tidal wave which will ultimately knock K.A. from his pedestal of power and prestige. Those in positions of great responsibility are held to a higher standard, not only by those they serve but also by a sovreign Creator.

    I too have had a history with then DA K.A. I, as a young teenager, confided in my then Pastor that I had been sexually abused for many years by a neighbor. Thankfully my Pastor was good buddies with K.A., so he told me he would take this info to him and get back to me & my mom. According to my Pastor, K.A.informed him of the things that a defense would do (making me look bad, also as if I had done something to attract the abuser, etc.). Of course to a young, scared teen, I was just that, SCARED and it silenced me into a confused, anxiety ridden, mis-trusting, angry and broken state for many years. As I see it now, I am an adult mother and now have clarity that what my Pastor told me was just absurd! I was in no way asking for that to happen to me as a child. I was so confused at what this man was doing to me…I had so much fear!
    So, now I am left to wonder as to whether K.A. also failed me? My pastor did, in not following up on this matter in the proper manner, my mom did (although I don’t like to admit it) by trusting my Pastor with however he wanted to handle it. My abuser had three daughters of his very own, they too were molested, they were left in this monsters reach for many years after I was free from it. I did not come forward until after this family had moved away.
    My story does not end here. Upon becoming a mother of my first child…I realized that I was not to blame for sexual abuse that was perpetrated on me from the ages of 6-12. I decided it was time to turn this man in on my own. As no adult ever helped me find justice, I would act alone. Unfortunately, after having a WILCO Sherrif’s Detective placed on the case…I was told by then Bradley’s DA office, that the statutes of limitations had expired in my case. The State of TX. had changed this at some point, so that they would last for 10 years after one’s 18th b’day (as many people don’t come forward until later years). The bad news was, they did not “grandfather” it in. So, I am left to live, knowing that my abuser has gotten away with his sick crimes.
    Two notes that the Detective did uncover during her investigation, and reveal to me:
    The abuser’s wife at the time, did catch him “peeping” at one of his daughter’s friends as she showered.
    Secondly, that the youngest daughter of the abuser spoke up to her mother at the age of 17, when she was fed up with her dad touching her. He was temporarily placed into a mental facility, of which there was a record. Sadly, at the time of my investigation…this daughter did not want to testify against her father.

    If anyone reading this has any information if there has been a change on the statute of limitations law, I would be interested in knowing.

    The fate of K.A. is of interest to me. If he did what was done in my case to others, as he has also done with Norwood…who knows how many criminals were never brought to justice and how many more lives were damaged because of K.A.’s apathetic service to this county’s citizens.

  16. After reading the Texas Monthly piece (brilliantly written), the average reader comes away with two inevitable conclusions: Morton is any man and Williamson County is as corrupt as any Chicago ward. How can Anderson, Brady, Boutwell, Lott et. al exist in a petrie dish that close to major media. Simple—they colude, cover, and conseal. Anderson will be nailed in the Court of Inquiry. Too much light on the case for escape now. Not even King Perry can fish him out of this whirlpool.

  17. This so called Judge Anderson should serve the remaining scum bag life he has left in prison. What a pathetic waste of skin Anderson is . I am glad I am not related to him. HANG HIM.

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