Texas man jailed 25 years for murder is exonerated
A Texas appeals court has formally exonerated a man set free last week after he spent nearly 25 years in prison for his wife’s 1986 killing, which DNA tests indicate another man committed.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Wednesday declared Michael Morton innocent of killing his wife, Christine, according to Paul Cates, a spokesman for the New York-based Innocence Project, which represented Morton in appealing his conviction. The ruling makes Morton eligible to receive $80,000 from the state for each year he was wrongfully imprisoned, about $2 million total.
Morton, 57, an Austin grocery store worker, had been convicted of beating his wife to death and sentenced to life in prison, although he maintained his innocence, blaming an intruder.
Cates told The Times that the Innocence Project is now working with the Williamson County district attorney's office, which prosecuted Morton, to investigate allegations that prosecutors suppressed evidence that could have cleared Morton early on, including evidence showing someone cashed one of his wife's checks and used her credit card after he was imprisoned.
"We want to get to the bottom of why this wasn't turned over so it won't happen again," Cates said.
Williamson County Dist. Atty. John Bradley told the Austin American-Statesman on Wednesday that he will not file new charges against Morton. Bradley could not be reached for comment at his office north of Austin late Wednesday.
Morton remains on parole and won’t be allowed to leave Texas until the appeals court’s ruling takes effect in 30 days, Cates said.
Morton has been staying with his parents in East Texas since his release. Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project lawyer, told The Times that she called Morton on Wednesday to tell him about the ruling.
"He's thrilled and relieved and looking forward to the next chapter in his life, but also still determined to get to the bottom of how and why he was wrongfully convicted in the first place and make sure it doesn't happen to anyone else," Morrison said. "There's still a lot of unanswered questions and he very much wants answers."
--Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Photo: Michael Morton awaits his release in the Williamson County courthouse on Oct. 4. Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez / The Daily Texan