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After five days of intense testimony, the Williamson County court of inquiry seeking to determine if criminal charges are in order with regard to State District Judge Ken Anderson’s conduct as district attorney during the 1987 Michael Morton murder trial concluded last Friday.
Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison while Mark Norwood, the alleged killer awaiting prosecution for both the 1986 murder of Christine Morton and the 1988 murder of Debra Baker, went free. Morton’s lawyers contend Anderson suppressed key pieces of evidence that suggested their client’s innocence and, if not withheld, could have prompted a “not guilty” verdict.
Characterizing Anderson’s testimony on the proceeding’s last day as “defiant, angry and frustrated,” Texas Tribune’s Brandi Grissom reports:
During about six hours on the stand, Anderson expressed no remorse for his own role in the miscarriage of justice that befell Morton. Instead, he repeatedly became indignant at the public accusations of wrongdoing that he has faced over the past 18 months. He defended the decisions he made while prosecuting Morton and seemed concerned about the damage the now famous case had inflicted on his reputation in his community. Anderson also lamented that he had expended his life-savings to hire lawyers to defend himself against allegations he called “so bogus it is unreal.”
“I had to spend the money to hire lawyers. And I worked my entire life and now they have it,” he said.
When asked by his attorney to tell Morton of viewing himself as subjected to 18 months of “false accusations,” Anderson said:
“I know what me and my family have been through in the last 18 months, and it’s hell,” Anderson said, his voice cracking. “And it doesn’t even register in the same ballpark as what you went through, Mr. Morton, so I don’t know that I can say I feel your pain, but I have a pretty darn good idea how horrible what we’ve gone through for 18 months has been, with false accusations and everything else, and what happened to you is so much worse than that. I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.”
As he had previously, Anderson apologized not for any errors he might have made in Morton’s case but for the system which he said, “screwed up.”
“I’ve beaten myself up on what could have been done different, and I frankly don’t know,” the 60-year-old judge said.
Anderson’s questioning by Rusty Hardin, the appointed court of inquiry attorney pro tem, was characterized as sometimes “shouting.” Two key pieces of evidence – a phone call transcript in which Morton’s mother described a conversation with her 3-year-old grandson during which the boy described a “monster” killing his mother while his father was not home along with multiple reports by neighbors of an unknown man in a green van near the Morton residence and nearby woods before the murder – were the focus of Hardin, a former Harris County prosecutor.
The information allegedly suppressed would have supported the theory maintained by Morton’s trial lawyers, Bill Allison and Bill White. In testimony earlier in the week, Allison and White said Anderson never gave them this evidence and violated a judge’s order with regard to turning over the information to the court.
Anderson claimed there was no judge’s order requiring the evidence turnover.
He also argued that although he was not required under law or by a judge’s order to give Morton’s lawyers the transcript or the green van report, he must have told them about it. He said he had no “independent recollection” of doing so, but faulted Morton’s lawyers for not following up on the information.
“I read that to the lawyers, and they could have done what they wanted,” Anderson said.
With Anderson claiming a reason he became a prosecutor was to help victims, particularly child victims of sexual assault, the Tribune described how Hardin asked repeatedly “how the prosecutor could fail to remember a piece of evidence as dramatic as the transcript in which a toddler describes seeing his mother brutally murdered.”
“How could a former prosecutor who cares so deeply about children not remember anything about a child seeing his mother killed in a case that he prosecuted? How could that be?” Hardin asked incredulously.
“I have no recollection of a particular piece of evidence of that nature or in that detail,” Anderson said.
The Tribune described the respective legal strategies as:
Anderson’s lawyers worked throughout the week to show that the former prosecutor was not obligated to turn over evidence to Morton’s lawyers. They also made the case that Morton’s own trial lawyers failed to adequately investigate the case and made critical missteps during their defense of him.
Hardin, for his part, attempted to prove that Anderson, in his prosecutorial zeal, went to great lengths to keep evidence from Morton’s lawyers. And he made a case that prosecutors could avoid circumstances like the one in which Anderson now finds himself by simply opening their files to the defense.
Tarrant County State District Judge Louis Sturns asked both sides to submit proposed recommendations. After saying he would consider the evidence presented by Hardin and Anderson’s counsel, he said the next proceeding will be scheduled “as early as this spring.”
Leaving the courtroom Friday, “yikes” and “wrenching” were words Michael Morton reportedly used to describe the week of testimony. Describing Anderson as failing to accept responsibility, “I was hoping for more,” Morton said. “I think we saw someone who is still struggling with denial and anger.”
Tags: county government, government, Michael Morton Rusty Hardin, public corruption, State District Judge Ken Anderson, transparency, Williamson County
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