Rare court of inquiry is convened over judge's work as a prosecutor in 1987 murder case

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A Texas judge is facing a rare court of inquiry concerning his long-ago work, as a state prosecutor, in a murder case.

If the judge overseeing the inquiry determines that district judge Ken Anderson of Williamson County acted improperly while serving as district attorney for the county, he could potentially refer the ex-prosecutor for a possible criminal prosecution for withholding evidence, the Associated Press explains.

A court of inquiry operates much like a grand jury proceeding, except that the person whose conduct is at issue may participate and present evidence. The focus in the proceeding against Anderson is the wrongful 1987 murder conviction of Michael Morton.

Morton, now 58, served almost 25 years in prison before he was exonerated in the murder of his wife. He testified Monday that he and his legal team did not know the couple’s son, then 3 years old, had witnessed the murder and said it wasn’t his father who committed the crime. His lawyers have claimed Anderson intentionally withheld the evidence.

Anderson, who has apologized to Morton, denies any wrongdoing. A lawyer for Anderson, Eric Nichols, suggested that recollections may have changed over more than 25 years and that defense lawyers for Morton may have opted to focus on other exculpatory evidence rather than a 3-year-old’s potential testimony, the AP reports.

Tearfully, Morton told District Judge Louis Sturns of Fort Worth, who is presiding over the court of inquiry, that he is not seeking revenge against Anderson but accountability for his wrongful conviction and the time he served until DNA evidence cleared him and implicated another suspect. Morton was released in 2011.

“I ask that you do what needs to be done. But at the same time to be gentle with Judge Anderson,” Morton said to Sturns.

The Nation Now page of the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) also have stories.

Additional and related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Rusty Hardin Is Special Prosecutor in Court of Inquiry Probing DA’s Role in Morton Murder Conviction”

ABAJournal.com: “Texas Bar Files Disciplinary Case Against Ex-DA, Who Is Now a Judge, re Murder Prosecution”

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