GEORGETOWN, Texas — A man wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 25 years for his wife's murder said Monday that revenge isn't his motive for seeking an investigation of the prosecutor he and his attorneys believe concealed evidence at his trial.
"A lot of people think I want a pound of flesh," said Michael Morton, who was freed after new DNA evidence tied another man to the crime. "Revenge is a natural instinct, but it's not what I'm looking for here, just accountability."
Morton, 57, spoke Monday after a court hearing in which his attorneys presented findings from a blistering 138-page report in which they accuse the prosecutor in his case of committing "serious acts of misconduct." The report asks state District Judge Sid Harle to assemble a special court of inquiry to investigate former prosecutor Ken Anderson on charges he disregarded an order at the original trial to turn over all evidence that could have supported Morton's claims of innocence. The report also accuses Anderson of tampering with evidence and court records.
Fighting back tears, Morton said although his false imprisonment cost him a quarter century of his life and the chance to enjoy his son's childhood, Monday was a "happy day" because he was able to ask a judge to investigate the allegations against Ken Anderson, who is now a state district judge.
Morton's attorneys also want the State Bar of Texas, which is already investigating Anderson, and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct to review those findings and consider punishing Anderson.
Harle said he hadn't finished reading the report, as well as documents filed with it, and would announce a decision later.
"We don't make allegations against a sitting official like this lightly," said Nina Morrison, an attorney with the New York-based Innocence Project that helped exonerate Morton. "We are asking for a court of inquiry because there needs to be a full and public investigation of the circumstances that we believe show a crime was committed in the prosecution of Michael Morton and continued for 24 years until the truth came to light."
Anderson was not at Monday's hearing, although his courtroom is just three down from the room where the hearing was held. His attorney, Eric Nichols, called the hearing and the report "a completely one-sided view and discussion of the Michael Morton prosecution and trial."
"The allegations ... are not only inconsistent with the record of those pretrial proceedings in trial but are defamatory," Nichols said. He added that, "Mr. Anderson stands firm in his belief that the prosecution of Mr. Morton at the time, in 1986 and 1987, was done ethically, was done appropriately and consistent with the evidence that was known to the state in 1986 and 1987."
Morton's attorneys prepared their report after being allowed — as part of an unusual agreement with current Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley — to investigate their claims of misconduct. They have accused Anderson of keeping key facts from defense attorneys, including that Morton's wife's credit card was used after her death and statements from the couple's then-3-year-old son that he witnessed the murder and his father wasn't the killer. Morton was convicted on circumstantial evidence and sentenced to life in prison.
Anderson has apologized to Morton but said he believes there was no misconduct in the case. He has been a judge in Williamson County, where Morton was convicted, since 2002.
Morton was freed in October after new DNA evidence indicated another man was responsible for killing his wife, Christine, who was fatally beaten in her bed in August 1986 in their Central Texas home.
Last month, authorities arrested another man, Mark Alan Norwood, for Christine Morton's murder. Norwood also is linked to the strikingly similar slaying of another woman killed while Morton was in prison. The Austin Police Department said Norwood is a suspect in the ongoing investigation of the 1988 beating death of Debra Masters Baker.
Investigators discovered the DNA connection between the two cases after Morton's attorneys spent years fighting for additional testing of a bloody bandanna found near the Morton home. Several of Bakers family members were at the hearing and thanked Morton's attorneys for their efforts.
Also at Monday's hearing, Harle formally dismissed the murder indictment against Morton, making his exoneration official. A Texas appeals court had previously declared Morton innocent.
"Mr. Morton, you and your family are frankly an inspiration to me," Harle said. "You never gave up on your innocence ... I commend you and admire you for your courage."
Morton's attorneys also recommended several policy reforms for lawmakers to consider, including having the Texas Legislature hold hearings on simplifying rules for turning over evidence that could point to a defendant's innocence.