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Legal Ethics

‘Extraordinary Legal Event’ Unfolds as Man Exonerated of Wife’s Murder Seeks to Hold DA Accountable

Posted Dec 19, 2011 4:57 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Michael Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for murdering his wife before Texas authorities finally tested DNA evidence and determined that another man was responsible for the slaying.

Formally exonerated by a Texas judge today, Morton is asking, through his lawyers, to try to hold accountable the prosecutor he blames for withholding evidence that could have acquitted him, back when his Williamson County case was originally tried, according to the Statesman's Austin Legal blog and the New York Times (reg. req.).

They requested in a report filed today that a court of inquiry be convened to determine whether then-Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a district judge in Georgetown, broke any laws or legal ethics rules by failing to provide exculpatory information to the defense prior to trial.

If given the green light by Judge Sid Harle, a visiting jurist from Bexar County who took over the Morton case in August, the inquiry would apparently be the first of its kind concerning any of the more than 200 inmates nationwide who have been exonerated, like Morton, due to DNA evidence, according to the Times.

“I haven’t seen anything like this, ever,” law professor Bennet L. Gershman of Pace University told the newspaper. “It’s an extraordinary legal event.”

Anderson says he did nothing wrong and has questioned the authority of the court to investigate his work as a prosecutor so long ago.

His lawyer, Eric Nichols, called the proceedings today "a completely one-sided view and discussion of Michael Morton’s prosecution and trial" that is "inconsistent with the facts and the law as it existed in 1986 and ’87,” the Austin Legal blog reports.

Morton was investigated and tried for his wife's murder in 1986 and 1987, the article notes.

Nichols said his client hasn't yet decided whether to oppose the court of inquiry sought by Morton.

The legal team representing Morton includes San Antonio criminal defense attorney Gerry Goldstein; Houston civil attorney John Raley; and Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project.

Articles in the Austin Statesman and Round Rock Leader provide additional details.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "Ex-Prosecutor, Now a Judge, Accused of Hiding Exculpatory Evidence"

Texas Tribune: "DA Agrees DNA Evidence Doesn't Support Morton's Guilt"

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