GEORGETOWN, Texas (AP) — One of the jurors who wrongfully convicted a Texas man who spent nearly 25 years in prison for murder said Thursday he wishes he would have had an opportunity to see police investigative files and other key evidence during the trial — but he also raised doubts that prosecutors boasted about hiding facts.
Mark Landrum was jury foreman in a 1987 case that sent grocery store manager Michael Morton to prison for life for beating his wife Christine to death. Morton was freed on DNA evidence in 2011, and is now part of a special proceeding known as a Court of Inquiry that will determine whether Ken Anderson, the ex-district attorney — now a judge — who prosecuted his case, could face criminal charges for allegedly withholding evidence.
Landrum testified that during the trial, the defense "constantly made sure we knew that there was no hard evidence."
"They said, 'It could have been an intruder, it could have been someone else,' " Landrum said. "I remember thinking, 'Wow, they created that doubt on what the possibilities were.' " But, he added, Morton's legal team "didn't have any facts to hang" those doubts on.
During the original case, which was tried in Georgetown, north of Austin, the defense objected that prosecutors were withholding evidence. Presiding Judge William Lott ordered Anderson to turn over case files that could contain evidence aiding Morton's legal team.
Anderson produced only a few pages of information, which Lott decided wouldn't sway the case. The defense and the jury never saw what Anderson gave the judge.
Omitted from what Lott saw were case notes from police that the Mortons' 3-year-old son told his grandmother he saw a "monster," not his father, beating his mother. There was also a report from a neighbor who said she previously saw a man park a green van near the Morton home and head into a wooded area, as if he were casing the residence.
When presented with those facts Thursday, Landrum said, "I wish I had been given the opportunity to know this while we were making our decision."
Landrum also disputed, however, another theory now advanced by Morton's legal team: That Anderson's co-prosecutor, Mike Davis, bragged to members of the jury immediately after the case that if it had gotten a look at the police files, the defense could have used them "to raise even more doubt."
Landrum recalled the conversation but said, "I remember him saying, 'We even had more evidence.' "
"That actually made me feel better about our decision," he said of finding Morton guilty.
Rarely used, courts of inquiry can be ordered when legal officials and public servants are accused of wrongdoing.
During an argument Thursday over introducing more evidence, Morton attorney Rusty Hardin said that everything not admitted "was like another day of freedom taken from" Morton.
Anderson attorney Eric Nichols slammed his hand on a table and cried, "Judge we need to stop this!" He yelled about "speechmaking" and said past courts of inquiry in Texas have degenerated into "circuses" and "mob scenes."
Anderson's lawyers also read a letter penned by Eric Morton's grandmother, who told attorneys she was not well enough to testify.
"My memory is not very clear of that nightmarish time," she wrote. But she remembered Anderson as hard-working and kind, and said word of what her grandson allegedly saw "was greatly embellished and not credible, with me asking leading questions of my grandson."
Nichols also repeatedly hammered one of Morton's original defense attorneys, saying that Lott — who had a reputation as a no-nonsense judge — would not have accepted only a few pages of evidence when he ordered Anderson to turn over all relevant case files. Lott died in 2009.
Nichols argues that the original trial judge was actually only seeking Morton's testimony to police on the day of his wife's killing, making the rest of the case file, and police notes, irrelevant.
He also questioned whether the defense attorney, Bill Allison, vigorously sought the evidence or could be exaggerating his recollections. Allison wavered a bit, saying, "It's always bothered me that that would be the issue. How do you know what didn't happen?"
Hardin then asked Allison how he would rate his work as a defense attorney. The witness choked up: "I have felt for a long time that I really let Michael down in some way."
When Allison left the stand, Morton gave him a bear-hug.
The day concluded with the testimony of another former district attorney, John Bradley. After Anderson became a judge, it fell to Bradley to continue overseeing the Morton case through the appeal process — and he argued for years against expanded DNA testing, once it became available in the matter. Bradley was defeated in the Republican primary last year, in part because of the publicity generated by Morton's exoneration.
Bradley recalled meeting with Anderson after Morton was freed.
"John," he recalled Anderson asking, "did I do anything wrong?"