Michael Morton, a Texas man imprisoned for 25 years for murdering his wife, is vindicated by new DNA evidence showing a third-party intruder with a criminal record was at the scene of the crime, and the district attorney who prosecuted him, appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to head the state’s Forensic Science Commission, also blocked testimony from Morton’s 3-year-old son that his mother’s killer was not his father, a court filing alleged Wednesday.
“These DNA results prove that Michael Morton was telling the truth all along,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “It’s clear from the new DNA testing and other suppressed, exculpatory documents that law enforcement never followed up on numerous leads pointing to a third-party intruder, which might have solved the crime. But even more troubling, District Attorney Bradley knew about this evidence, yet kept these documents hidden in the State’s file while he fought tooth and nail to bar DNA testing.”
Perry has already come under fire for executing Cameron Todd Willingham, an almost-certainly innocent man, and was forced to commute 30 executions by his own state’s Supreme Court. John Bradley no longer heads the state Forensic Science Commission but continues to serve as the Williamson County D.A., and the Innocence Project has pushed for a judge to remove him for bias.
“Michael had to spend the last six years fighting just to get access to DNA testing. Unfortunately, we now know that the District Attorney’s office knew all along that there was a good chance that the testing might point to another perpetrator in the case,” said John Raley, a Houston lawyer who has been pro bono co-counsel for Mr. Morton since 2003. “We’re hopeful the court will appoint a new prosecutor to investigate the matter because there is now a mountain of evidence pointing to Michael’s innocence, and the entire Morton family deserves to know the truth about what happened 25 years ago.”
Bradley, for his part, said the court filing was the stuff of personal vendetta.
“It seems to me that there’s a pretty big attempt here to retaliate or make personal attacks rather than litigate in the courtroom,” Bradley said. “If the investigation shows that he is in fact innocent, then that will be the result. I don’t think, on its face, that a DNA result that shows that a piece of evidence away from crime scene immediately proves innocence. It does raise some good issues that are worthy of investigation, and we will do that,” he said.
But the district attorney has a record that smacks of politics — and allegiance to Rick Perry in particular. The governor, after all, removed three members of the Forensic Science Commission in 2009 when it looked poised to vindicate Willingham, executed in 2004. He would appear to have no qualms about using his executive authority to avoid accountability and oversight, Scheck argued.
“There’s a whole history of this. The appointments. They were on the eve [in 2009] of having a hearing with Craig Beyler,” a forensic scientist independently retained to look at the plausibility of arson in the fire Willingham was executed for starting. “An independent panel of arson experts had said the arson evidence in the Willingham case was unreliable, and there should be an investigation or audit of any other cases relying on fire marshals. Finally, when the commission was about to hear from Dr. Beyler, Governor Perry removed the chair and the co-chair and another commissioner and appointed Bradley who immediately shut down the whole preceding. There’s been a storied history of Bradley’s efforts of preventing investigations from going forward.”