A JUST RESPONSE: A series of events set in motion a quarter-century ago in the Austin, Texas, suburbs ended dramatically on April 19, when former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a sitting district judge, was arrested for misconduct in the case of Michael Morton, a man sentenced to life for a crime he did not commit. Found guilty of killing his wife, Christine, in their home in 1986, Morton was finally freed from prison in 2011, after DNA taken from a bloody bandanna discovered near the scene was matched to another man, Mark Alan Norwood, who was convicted of her murder in March.
Lawyers in Texas and with The Innocence Project fought long and hard for the DNA testing. In the meantime, they also discovered that key pieces of evidence had been withheld by prosecutors. These included neighbors’ reports of a strange van seen lurking near the Mortons’ home the day of the murder, along with an account offered by the Mortons’ young son, Eric, who said he saw a “monster” kill his mother. Anderson concealed this information, which could have been used to argue Morton’s innocence.
Such violations are all too common in wrongful-conviction cases—and they go unpunished more often than not. But Anderson was subjected to a rare court-of-inquiry procedure to determine whether he could be held criminally liable for prosecutorial misconduct. Judge Louis Sturns, who was appointed to hear the case, concluded in a sternly delivered opinion in open court that Anderson had willfully withheld evidence in order to boost his chances of convicting Morton.
“This Court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and life sentence,” Sturns wrote.
The ruling was embraced by Texas lawmakers who have worked for years on criminal justice reform. “To anyone interested in justice, Judge Sturns’s decision was a tough one, but the right one,” Democratic State Senator Rodney Ellis said after listening to the ruling in a packed courtroom. “This case was one of the most extraordinary incidents of prosecutorial misconduct in the last thirty years, so justice demanded an extraordinary response.” JORDAN SMITH
REMEMBERING BOB EDGAR: On April 23, Bob Edgar died suddenly from a heart attack at age 69. Serving in Congress from 1975 to 1986, and as general secretary of the National Council of Churches and CEO of Common Cause, Edgar fought to hold those in power accountable to the public. From his push for a Justice Department investigation of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas for conflicts of interest in the Citizens United ruling to his efforts to bring aid to the Palestinian town of Jenin after the Israeli bombardment in 2002, Edgar had a lifelong commitment to social justice and to opposing the insidious influence of money in politics. “People have to recognize that they are the leaders we’ve been waiting for,” he said.
For more of Edgar’s wisdom, watch my 2011 interview with him at here. LAURA FLANDERS