New DNA evidence to free Texas man imprisoned for wife's murder
Texas prosecutors have agreed to release an Austin man who spent nearly 25 years in prison on a murder conviction after new DNA tests suggested that another man was responsible for his wife's beating death.
District Judge Sid Harle is expected to free Michael Morton after a final hearing Tuesday.
Morton, 57, is due to be released on his own recognizance, according to Paul Cates, a spokesman for the New York-based Innocence Project, which has represented Morton in his appeals. Cates told The Times that Morton will be freed pending consideration of his case by the state Court of Criminal Appeals, which will make the final determination about his request to overturn his conviction.
Morton’s lawyers have accused John Bradley, the local district attorney, of suppressing evidence that would have helped clear Morton, who was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for his wife's fatal beating the year before. That evidence included a transcript of a police interview indicating that Morton's son said the attacker was not his father. The Innocence Project eventually obtained the transcript through a Public Information Act request.
Bradley has a track record of opposing similar investigations during his time on the Texas Forensic Science Commission, to which he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009.
During a Monday hearing in the case, Bradley urged the public to “recall that prosecutors are called upon to do justice ... that we are searching for the fair solution,” according to the Associated Press.
Prosecutors had contended that Morton beat his wife to death after she refused to have sex with him on his 32nd birthday.
Morton said an intruder killed his wife after he left her and their then-3-year-old son for his job at a grocery store.
This summer, tests performed on a bloody blue bandanna found near Morton's home at the time revealed his wife’s DNA mingled with that of an unidentified man with a criminal record in multiple states, including California. Texas authorities have so far refused to identify the man, citing the ongoing investigation.
Nina Morrison, an Innocence Project lawyer, told the court Monday that DNA testing not yet available during Morton’s trial proves the bandanna contains blood from a man being investigated in connection with the 1988 beating death of Austin resident Debra Jan Baker after Morton was already behind bars.
Morrison also alleged that prosecutors and investigators repeatedly hid non-DNA evidence from Morton’s original defense attorney, including evidence that one of his wife's credit cards was used and one of her checks cashed days after her slaying.
Morton is expected to make an appearance outside the Austin courthouse Tuesday after his release, Cates said.
“He's kind of going to be Rip Van Winkle,” Morton’s attorney, Houston-based John Raley, told the Associated Press. “He's never held a cellphone. Reagan was president when he went in, so there's going to be a long adjustment.”
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Photo: The attorneys for Michael Morton -- John Raley, left, Nina Morrison, Gerald Goldstein and Barry Scheck -- speak to the media Monday after it was announced that Morton would freed from prison after 25 years. Credit: Jay Janner / Austin American-Statesman