Collateral Damage From a Wrongful Conviction

Anyone who still thinks that overzealous, conviction-hungry prosecutors and police do more good than harm should take a look at the case of Michael Morton, a man from Texas who spent 25 years in prison after being wrongful convicted for murdering his wife, Christine, in 1986.

It was only recently discovered that the prosecutor in this case, Ken Anderson, had suppressed evidence favorable to Mr. Morton, including an eyewitness statement from Mr. Morton’s 3-year old son who said his father was not home when his mother was murdered. Mr. Anderson also covered up the fact that multiple neighbors saw a man in a green van repeatedly park and walk around the neighborhood and into the woods behind the Morton home right before the murder.

A Texas Court of Inquiry found probable cause that Mr. Anderson (who was later elected a district judge) had violated two criminal laws, and committed contempt of court in suppressing the evidence. He was disbarred and sentenced to five days in prison – a purely symbolic gesture to be sure, but still a good precedent for a prosecutor turned judge. Criminal charges could not be filed due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.

The kicker in this case is that the real murderer, Mark Alan Norwood (i.e. the perpetrator in real life, not merely in Mr. Anderson’s fantasy world) was tragically allowed to go on and kill again. Two years after killing Mr. Morton’s wife, he killed Debra Masters Baker in 1988.

A serious argument can be made that Mr. Anderson is guilty of aiding and abetting Mr. Norwood by framing Mr. Morton for Norwood’s killings. Although Mr. Anderson wasn’t the one who killed Morton’s wife, he certainly helped Norwood get away with it, allowing him to kill someone else.

Many people mistakenly believe that overly aggressive prosecutors like Anderson are a boon for our communities. After all, they ensure our safety by keeping dangerous criminals with smart defense attorneys off the streets and away from our families. So what if they occasionally send an innocent person to jail every once in a while; they get it right most of the time, right?

Not only did Mr. Anderson and his all-star team of corrupt investigators get it completely wrong, an innocent woman who had nothing to do with the original murder lost her life. All because a few state actors, blinded by their desire to look like heroes to the public and in the courtroom, lacked the integrity and patience to do their jobs correctly. Maybe Mr. Anderson started out wanting to do the right thing, but from now on he will be known as the corrupt prosecutor who sent an innocent man to prison for two-and-a-half decades, forced that man’s son to grow up without his father after losing his mother, indirectly caused the death of Ms. Baker, and left Ms. Baker’s family reeling from her death.

So much for doing the right thing.

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