Judge Eyed in '87 Wrongful Conviction

ABC News
Judge Eyed in '87 Wrongful Conviction
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Judge Eyed in '87 Wrongful Conviction (ABC News)

A Texas judge is expected to find out today whether he will be prosecuted for allegedly lying and concealing information in a case when he was a prosecutor that sent a man to prison for 25 years.

State District Judge Ken Anderson was the Williamson County district attorney in 1987 when Michael Morton was convicted of beating to death his wife, Christine Morton. Michael Morton was exonerated of the crime in 2011, after spending more than two decades in prison.

Now Anderson is accused of lying and concealing evidence that led to Morton's conviction. Morton was released from prison after a bloody bandana found 100 yards from his home in 1986 was finally DNA tested.

The bandana had Christine Morton's blood on it as well as DNA from a man identified in 2010 as Mark Alan Norwood. Norwood was later arrested and charged with the murder.

The bandana was ignored during the criminal trial.

Today, Anderson will face a court of inquiry in Williamson County, an unusual court procedure that will decide whether Anderson violated the law and whether he should be prosecuted for misconduct in the case. If the panel decides that Anderson broke state laws, an arrest warrant will be issued and he could face a criminal trial.

"Very few prosecutors are ever prosecuted for their misconduct in court so this is something that's very special. It's unusual," Pace Law School professor Bennett Gershman told ABCNews.com. "It's almost unprecedented. I can't think of any other case like it."

Court of inquiries in Texas are usually only used to look into allegations against elected officials, not prosecutors.

Gershman is not involved in the case, but is one of the nation's leading experts on prosecutorial misconduct.

"The stakes are very high," Gershman said. "Prosecutor Anderson is charged with hiding evidence that would prove a man's innocence and this man was convicted with Anderson as the prosecutor and spent 25 years in jail."

Anderson could not be reached for comment today, but when Morton was freed, Anderson apologized but denied any wrongdoing.

"In terms of the overall case, I am sick," he said in 2011. "I was involved in a prosecution. We got it wrong. That is something I am just going to have to live with."

Almost a year ago, Morton shared his story at a University of Texas Law School forum advocating accountability for prosecutors, according to ABC News' Austin affiliate KVUE.

"If what happened to me can happen to me, it can happen to anybody," Morton said. "I didn't have a criminal record. I lived in the good part of town. I had a nice house, career, a child, a wife, a dog. I was the average Joe Blow."

Gershman said the legal community will be closely watching the Anderson case, which could have broader effects.

"It's very serious--unprecedented in my opinion--and it may lead to various kinds of reforms in criminal practice," he said.

The likely reforms would have to do with the discovery process before a trial, including the accessibility of evidence.

"I do think it happens more often than people think, particularly misconduct involving hiding evidence that might prove somebody's innocence," Gershman said. "Maybe one could call it an epidemic. Prosecutors do this and they do this because it makes it more difficult for them to win a case if they divulge this information."

"Prosecutors want to win. That's the bottom line," he said. "They're there to do justice. They're there to be fair to everybody and good prosecutors see their role as being critical people in the justice system to make sure justice is done and this type of behavior doesn't promote justice."

Morton's lawyers called for the court of inquiry on Anderson, according to KVUE. Morton is expected to testify today along with up to 20 other witnesses.

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