Friday, August 19, 2016

Michael Morton: Texas; Aftermath; Aftermath to revelations of criminal conduct by his prosecutors - the withholding of crucial esculpatory evidence - as beautifully set out in a set-up piece to the up-coming Mark Norward trial by reporter Chase Hoffberger. (Austin Chronicle)..."Nor­wood is currently serving a life sentence for the 1986 Georgetown murder of Christine Morton, whose husband Michael was originally convicted for that murder, but was exonerated in 2011 after previously unpresented DNA evidence absolved him of the crime. The revelation ended the local careers of two Williamson County district attorneys, one of whom, Ken Anderson, went to jail. The other, John Bradley, got chased out of the country. He's currently Attorney General on the Pacific island of Palau. "The Michael Morton Act," a seminal mandate in the quest for a more open discovery process in criminal cases, passed through Texas' 83rd Legislature in 2013."

STORY: "Mark Norwood Returns to Court Accused killer in 1988 murder," by reporter Chase Hoffberger, published by The Austin Chronicle on August 19, 2016.

GIST:  Accused killer in 1988 murder now three weeks from second trial;

GIST: "Mark Alan Norwood made an appearance in Judge Julie Kocurek's 390th District Court on Monday. The 62-year-old was there to hammer out a few pretrial hang-ups before the long-awaited jury selection begins Sept. 8 in the state's trial against him for the 1988 North Austin murder of Debra Baker. Nor­wood is currently serving a life sentence for the 1986 Georgetown murder of Christine Morton, whose husband Michael was originally convicted for that murder, but was exonerated in 2011 after previously unpresented DNA evidence absolved him of the crime. The revelation ended the local careers of two Williamson County district attorneys, one of whom, Ken Anderson, went to jail. The other, John Bradley, got chased out of the country. He's currently Attorney General on the Pacific island of Palau. "The Michael Morton Act," a seminal mandate in the quest for a more open discovery process in criminal cases, passed through Texas' 83rd Legislature in 2013. Norwood was convicted that same year, after the aforementioned evidence – a blue bandanna found at a construction site 100 yards away from the crime scene – was shown to carry traces of both Norwood's DNA and Morton's blood. How the Morton case was tried proved somewhat unusual. By March 2013, when it went to trial, Norwood had already been indicted for the Baker murder. The murders occurred two years and 12 miles from each other and featured a number of similarities: young mothers bludgeoned to death in their own homes, and traces of Norwood's DNA within 100 yards of both crime scenes. In a San Angelo courtroom, where the Morton case was tried on account of all the publicity the murder received in Williamson and Travis counties, Williamson County District Judge Burt Carnes allowed Asst. Attorney General Lisa Tanner to introduce evidence tying Norwood to Baker's murder. The jury did not know at the time that Norwood had been indicted. Indications Monday suggest that the state's effort to convict Norwood of Baker's murder will depend on district prosecutors Gary Cobb and Allison Wetzel's ability to once again associate Morton's murder with Baker's."

The entire story can be found at:

For background on the outlandish - indeed criminal - failure of prosecutors  to turn over crucial exculpatory evidence to Morton, see the National Exonerations Registry entry at the link below: " After spending nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Michael Morton was released on October 4, 2011, and officially exonerated in December. DNA evidence implicated another man, who has also been tied to a similar Texas murder that occurred two years after the murder of Morton’s wife. The Crime: After celebrating his birthday at a restaurant with his 31-year-old wife, Christine, and their three-year-old son, on August 12, 1986, Michael Morton and his family returned home. The next morning, Morton left a note on the bathroom vanity expressing disappointment that his wife had declined to have sex the night before, but ending with the words, “I love you.” He then left for work at about 5:30 a.m., arriving half an hour later; his co-workers would later testify that he did not act unusually. That morning, Christine’s body was found. She appeared to have been bludgeoned to death in her bed with a weapon made of wood. A wicker basket and suitcase were piled on top of her. The sheets upon which she lay were stained with what was later determined to be semen. The Investigation: The day after Christine’s body was found, August 14, police recovered a bloody bandana found at a construction site located about 100 yards from the Morton home. Later that month, Christine’s mother told police that the Mortons’ three-year-old son, Eric, had been present during the murder. According to Eric, the murderer was not Michael, but a “monster.”  Eric described the crime scene and murder in great detail, and specifically said that his “Daddy” was “not home” when it happened. Upon questioning the Mortons’ neighbors, police were told that a man had repeatedly parked a green van on the street behind the Mortons’ house and walked off into a nearby wooded area. Police records also indicated that Christine Morton’s missing Visa card may have been recovered in a San Antonio jewelry store, and that a San Antonio officer stated that he could identify the woman who had attempted to use the card. According to Morton’s defense lawyers, none of this evidence was turned over to them at the trial. Morton maintained his innocence. He believed that his wife had been killed by an intruder sometime after he left for work on the morning of August 13. The Trial: When the defense learned that the prosecution did not plan to call the chief investigator in the case, Sgt. Don Wood, to the stand, they suspected that the prosecution might be concealing potentially exculpatory evidence. After the defense raised this issue with the judge, the prosecution assured the court that all favorable evidence had been given to the defense as required. They also presented a sealed file for the judge to review which was to contain all of Sgt. Wood’s reports and notes. Evidence concerning Eric’s eyewitness account, the green van, the Visa card, and the forged check were all absent. At the trial, the Travis County medical examiner testified that Christine had been killed no later than 1:15 am, based on the contents of her stomach. He did, however, admit that this estimate was “not a scientific statement.” A state serologist gave testimony supporting the prosecution’s argument that the semen stain found on the sheets was consistent with ejaculation, rather than marital intercourse. The prosecution claimed that, after beating his wife to death, Morton masturbated on her corpse. The prosecution presented no witnesses or physical evidence that tied Morton to the crime. They hypothesized that he had beaten Christine to death because she refused to have sex with him on his birthday.  At the time, Morton had no arrests, convictions, or history of violence against anyone. On February 17, 1989, Michael Morton was convicted of murder and given a life sentence. Post-Conviction: Morton immediately appealed his conviction, but this appeal was denied. He first requested post-conviction DNA testing in 1990 on the semen stain from the bedsheet. The stain matched his own DNA profile; however, this result was not surprising since the crime occurred in his bed.  In 2005, the Innocence Project and the law firm of Raley & Bowick in Houston filed a motion requesting additional DNA testing on other items of evidence from the crime scene. The District Attorney of Williamson County opposed the motion.  The court granted permission to test some of the items in evidence, but not others. Once again, tests could not exclude Morton as the source of the DNA collected from the bed, and other tests did not yield any DNA for comparison. On January 8, 2010, Morton successfully appealed the denial of testing on the bandana and hair from the bandana in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 30, 2011, Orchid Cellmark reported that DNA testing on the bandana had revealed that it contained Christine Morton’s blood and hair. It also contained the DNA of another, unknown male.  The unknown male DNA profile was run through the CODIS databank and matched Mark Norwood, a convicted felon from California, who also had a criminal record in Texas and who lived in Texas at the time of Christine Morton’s murder. Further investigation by Morton’s lawyers and the Travis County District Attorney revealed that a pubic hair from Norwood was also found at the scene of the murder of Debra Masters Baker in Travis County. Mrs. Baker was, like Christine Morton, bludgeoned to death in her bed; her murder occurred two years after Christine’s death, while Michael Morton was in prison. During the course of the DNA litigation, Morton’s attorneys filed a Public Information Act request, and finally obtained the other documents showing Morton’s innocence in the State’s file that had apparently been withheld at trial. Michael Morton was released on October 4, 2011, after spending nearly 25 years in prison. He was officially exonerated on December 19, 2011. In November 2011, Norwood was charged with the murder of Christine Morton. In November 2012, he was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on charges of murdering Debra Masters Baker. In March 2013, Norwood was convicted of the murder of Christine Morton and he was sentenced to life in prison. As of 2012, Morton had received $1,973,333 in state compensation. At the request of Morton’s attorneys, the Texas Supreme Court held a Court of Inquiry. In April 2013, a judge found that the former Williamson County District Attorney who prosecuted the Morton case, Ken Anderson, who had since become a judge in Williamson County, should face criminal contempt and tampering charges for failing to turn over evidence pointing to Morton's innocence. Anderson resigned his judgeship in September 2013. On November 8, 2013, Anderson was sentenced to 10 days in jail and agreed to disbarment for withholding evidence that sent Morton to prison for 24 years, 7 months, and 11 days. From the date of his conviction—February 17, 1987—until his release, Morton spent 8,995 days locked up. With time off for good behavior, Anderson spent 96 hours behind bars before he was released. Summary courtesy of the Innocence Project,

See earlier post of this Blog (November 28, 2011) at the link below: "(Michael) Morton was the victim of serious prosecutorial misconduct that caused him to lose 25 years of his life and completely ripped apart his family. Perhaps even more tragically, we now know that another murder might have been prevented if law enforcement had continued its investigation rather than building a false case against Mr. Morton,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “This tragic miscarriage of justice must be fully investigated and steps must be taken to hold police and prosecutors accountable.” In August, the Innocence Project announced that DNA testing on a bandana found near the Morton’s home where the murder occurred contained the blood of the victim, Christine Morton, and a male other than Morton. According to the papers filed by the Innocence Project yesterday, new DNA testing has connected the male DNA on the bandana to a hair that was found at the crime scene of a Travis County murder that was conducted with a similar modus operandi after Morton was incarcerated. Morton always maintained that the murder was committed by a third-party intruder. In the filing, the Innocence Project charges that Morton would never have been convicted of the crime if the prosecution had turned over as required evidence pointing to his innocence. Newly discovered evidence that was uncovered through a Public Records Act request that was not given to the defense includes: • A transcript of a taped interview by the chief investigator, Sgt. Don Wood, with the victim’s mother where the mother says that the couple’s three-year-old child witnessed the murder and provided a chilling account of watching a man who was not his father beat Christine to death. • A handwritten telephone message to Williamson County Sherriff’s Office (WCSO) Sgt. Wood dated two days after the murder reporting that what appeared to be Christine Morton’s missing Visa card was recovered at the Jewel Box store in San Antonio, with a note indicating that a police officer in San Antonio would be able to identify the woman who attempted to use the card. • A report by WCSO officer Traylor that a neighbor had “on several occasions observed a male park a green van on the street behind [the Morton’s] address, then the subject would get out and walk into the wooded area off the road.” • An internal, typewritten WCSO message to Sgt. Wood and follow up correspondence reporting that a check made out to Christine Morton by a man named John B. Cross was cashed with Christine’s forged signature nine days after her murder.

I am monitoring this case. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments.
The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic" section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at:
Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at:
Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:
Harold Levy: Publisher; The Charles Smith Blog;