Texas man convicted of wife's murder freed after 25 years [video]
A Texas judge released an Austin man who spent nearly 25 years in prison after recent DNA tests suggested that another man was responsible for beating his wife to death.
Michael Morton, 57, on Tuesday was released on his own recognizance, pending consideration of his case by the state Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final determination on his request to overturn his conviction for his wife’s 1986 murder in Williamson County. District Judge Sid Harle freed Morton after a hearing in Georgetown, about 30 miles north of Austin.
Morton could be seen in video posted online sitting with his mother in court after his release. He thanked the judge and his attorneys at the New York-based Innocence Project.
“There are a lot of things I can’t say right now because I still have this thing hanging over my head,” he said. “I know there are a lot of things you want to ask me. I will say this: Colors seem real bright to me now, and the women are real good-looking,” Morton said, laughing.
His mother, Pat Morton, said, “This is one of the happiest days of my life, and I thank God for it.”
Morton’s lawyers have accused prosecutors of suppressing evidence that would have helped clear Morton, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987. That evidence included a transcript of a police interview indicating that Morton's son said the attacker was not his father. The Innocence Project obtained the transcript through a Public Information Act request.
“There were serious and grave acts of prosecutorial misconduct, and we really need to get answers to what happened,” said Barry Scheck, one of the Innocence Project’s founders, who was at court with Morton on Tuesday.
The prosecutor at the time, Ken Anderson, contended that Morton beat his wife to death after she refused to have sex with him on his 32nd birthday. Anderson, now a state judge, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
Williamson County Dist. Atty. John Bradley has opposed wrongful conviction investigations during his time on the Texas Forensic Science Commission, which he was appointed to by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009. But in this case, he told The Times after Tuesday's hearing, he supported Morton's release. He emphasized that none of the original prosecutors still worked for his office.
"As a prosecutor, it's my job to make sure justice is served," Bradley said. "Sometimes it involves punishment, and sometimes it means releasing people."
Bradley said he intended to work with the Innocence Project to address the misconduct allegations.
Morton has insisted an intruder killed his wife after he left her and their 3-year-old son, Eric, that morning to report to work at a grocery store. This summer, DNA tests on a bloody blue bandanna found near Morton's home at the time of the killing showed his wife’s DNA was mingled with that of a man with a criminal record in multiple states. Texas authorities have refused to identify the man, citing the ongoing investigation.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Video: Michael Morton, 57, appears in court in Georgetown, Texas, after his release Tuesday. Credit: YouTube.