HOUSTON (AP) — The State Bar of Texas is suing a former prosecutor who is now a state district judge, accusing him of withholding memos and other written evidence in the case of a man who served nearly 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit.
Ken Anderson was the prosecutor in 1987 when Michael Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the slaying of his wife at their home in Williamson County, just north of Austin. A year ago, DNA evidence cleared Morton and he was freed. Another man now faces a murder trial in his wife's death.
A disciplinary panel for the state lawyers' association contended in a lawsuit filed earlier this month that Anderson, now a judge in the Central Texas county, knew about the evidence but didn't disclose it to Morton's lawyers.
"Before, during and after the 1987 trial, (Anderson) knew of the existence of several pieces of evidence and withheld same from defense counsel," according to the lawsuit, which also serves as a disciplinary petition.
On Friday, Anderson's attorney said he and his client "respectfully disagree" with the bar's claims.
"Incorrect allegations that were first made by attorneys representing Mr. Morton have unraveled over time and will continue to do so," attorney Eric Nichols said. "We will defend against these allegations in the public forum of a court of law."
John Raley, an attorney for Morton, said he was confident Anderson would "be held accountable."
The State Bar announced a year ago that it was investigating Anderson, who has until Nov. 5 to respond to the lawsuit. It could be up to six months before the suit goes to trial. The Texas Supreme Court appointed a judge whose judicial territory is 350 miles west of Williamson County to oversee the case. If the judge or a jury sides with the bar, the judge would decide a penalty ranging from public reprimand to disbarment.
According to the bar's lawsuit, Anderson violated professional conduct rules by withholding five items. They include a memo to the sheriff's lead investigator in the case regarding a tip that a check made out to the victim was cashed nine days after she was killed; a phone message to the investigator that the victim's credit card was recovered in San Antonio; and a sheriff's department report from neighbors describing a man parking a van on the street behind the Mortons' home several time before the August 1986 killing.
The bar also alleges he withheld the transcript of a taped interview between the investigator and Morton's mother-in-law; and a condensed transcript of the taped interview.
The taped interview included the victim's mother saying her 3-year-old grandson told her that he witnessed the killing, gave details about it and said his father wasn't home at the time. Morton, who was convicted on circumstantial evidence, maintained he was working when the murder took place and that an intruder was responsible for his wife's death.
"(Anderson) affirmatively told the trial court that he had no evidence favorable to the accused," the lawsuit said. "That statement was false."
Morton was freed last year after DNA testing not available at the time of his trial revealed his wife's blood and DNA from another man on a bloody bandanna found near the Mortons' house around the time of the killing. The DNA tests are not mentioned in the disciplinary petition against Anderson.
The man whose DNA was found on the bandanna, Mark Alan Norwood, faces trial next year in Christina Morton's death.