Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Ex-judge caged for wrong conviction

A former Texas judge charged over a wrongful murder conviction when he was a prosecutor agreed to a 10-day jail sentence

A former Texas judge charged over a wrongful murder conviction when he was a prosecutor agreed to a 10-day jail sentence, accepting the punishment in front of the innocent man he helped put in prison for nearly 25 years.

Ken Anderson will also be disbarred and must serve 500 hours of community service as part of a sweeping deal that was expected to end all criminal and civil cases against the embattled ex-district attorney, who was the face of the law in a tough-on-crime Texas county for 30 years.

Anderson, 61, never spoke in his return to the same court in Georgetown where he served as a state judge for 11 years before resigning in September.

Sitting behind Anderson in the gallery was Michael Morton, who was released from prison in 2011 after DNA evidence showed he did not beat his wife to death in 1986.

"It's a good day," said Mr Morton, surrounded by family members.

Asked if he felt satisfaction in watching the role reversal - Anderson at the defence table, waiting to be put behind bars - Mr Morton said: "It was one of those necessary evils, or distasteful requirements that you have to do in life."

He did not dwell on the length of the jail sentence, saying the punishment "or lack thereof" was as much as the legal system could dole out at this time.

Since being freed from prison, Mr Morton has become a visible embodiment of problems in the legal system in Texas, which leads the nation in prisoners set free by DNA testing - 117 in the last 25 years. Earlier this year, the former Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court urged politicians to act on the issue.

Mr Morton was a regular presence at the Texas Capitol this spring and helped push through the Michael Morton Act, which helps compel prosecutors to share files with defence lawyers that can help defendants' cases.

Anderson entered a plea of no contest to contempt of court. The charge stemmed from a 1987 exchange when Anderson, then the Williamson County district attorney, was asked by a judge whether he had anything to offer that was favourable to Mr Morton's defence. He said no.

But among the evidence Mr Morton's lawyers claim was kept from them were statements from Mr Morton's then three-year-old son, who witnessed the murder and said his father was not responsible. There were also interviews with neighbours who told authorities they saw another man near the Morton home before the murder.

Judge Kelly Moore said the case against Anderson revealed a difficulty in determining justice.

"There is no way that anything we can do here today can resolve the tragedy that occurred in these matters," he said. "I'd like to say to Mr Morton, the world is a better place because of you."

Mr Morton's lawyers acknowledged that Anderson could serve as few as four days with good behaviour and time already served. A Texas judge had ordered Anderson's arrest in in April on the contempt and tampering charges.

He faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the tampering charges, but prosecutors said statues of limitations made it a difficult conviction to pursue.

Anderson has previously apologised to Mr Morton for what he called failures in the system but has said he believes there was no misconduct.

Eric Nichols, Anderson's lawyer, made it a point to say in court his client "has not been convicted, and will not be convicted, of any criminal offence".

Mr Morton's lawyers said later there would be an audit of all cases previously handled by Anderson to look for other instances of alleged misconduct.

Mr Morton said his only goal since being freed was to get Anderson off the bench and make sure he never practised law again.

AP

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