What a headline. It is a welcomed headline for those of us fighting wrongful convictions. Michael Morton spent 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Before Morton was convicted, then Williamson County, Texas District Attorney Ken Anderson apparently had evidence that could prove Morton’s innocence before his trial, but did not reveal the evidence to his attorney, nor to the jury. For twenty-five long years, Morton lived in a prison, deprived of his freedom, his family, and his finances, while Ken Anderson went on to become a judge, basking in the number of convictions that secure promotions in the convict at all cost culture that exists in far too many district attorney offices.
Anderson’s successor continued to deprive Morton of his rights as a human being who should never be confined for crimes not committed by denying him an opportunity to get DNA testing on a bandana that could prove his innocence; this is after Morton spent nearly two decades in prison. It was when the DNA was actually tested that Morton was able to walk out of prison an innocent man. During his time in prison, he not only had to live with the title of wife killer, but he also saw his own son, on his 18th birthday, change his name; his son had been convinced by Morton’s in-laws that his dad murdered his mother. Imagine what that was like. Morton said that one day when he was at his lowest moments that he relied on his faith one last time. “A God if you are listening to me please show yourself” type of moment. He reports that he received the sign that he was looking for and that is what carried him throughout the remainder of the time he spent in prison ((http://www.npr.org/2012/04/28/150996459/free-after-25-years-a-tale-of-murder-and-injustice).
What also happened while Morton was arrested and the sole focus of the investigation is that the person who actually killed Morton’s wife, Christina, is suspected of killing another female in the same mode as Morton’s wife was murdered. This individual will soon be tried for the death of Christina Morton- more than 25 years later, 25 years after her husband and father of her child spent a nightmarish time in prison as an innocent man. The family of the woman later killed by Christina Morton’s killer felt betrayed because if law enforcement hadn’t focused on Morton and followed leads, their loved one likely would not have been brutally murdered. The victim’s family in that case supported the opponent of Anderson’s successor and he lost in the Republican Primary in Williamson to Jana Duty (http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/morton-case-was-focus-of-jana-dutys-campaign-to-ou/nRn84/).
Is it Time to Stop Coddling Prosecutors Who Behave Badly?
Recently, CNN reporter Don Lemon sent the following tweet:
Did u see the video of detroit bus driver punching the unruly passenger? Is it time to stop coddling people who behave badely? Now on #CNN (Saturday, October 20, 2012)
@donlemoncnn Texas Bar sues prosecutor over wrongful conviction. Should we stop coddling prosecutors? http://www.kvue.com/news/national/174957211.html … #prison
I replied that the Texas Bar Association is suing a prosecutor for his role in sending and keeping an innocent man in prison. When are we going to stop coddling prosecutors who misbehave badly? Of course I got no response, but I think this is a question that society must address. There are far too many innocent people in prison- one is too many (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/07/22/a-step-in-the-right-direction-giving-the-wrongfully-convicted-a-chance-at-justice/) The victim’s family in Williamson County understood far too intimately the consequences of the convict at all cost mentality- when the wrong person is convicted, the actual perpetrator of the crimes goes free. Willie Grimes, who served more than 2 decades in prison for a crime he did not commit was recently exonerated by the North Carolina Actual Innocence Commission- another entity needed in EVERY STATE. The police actually had another suspect before Grimes went to the police station because he heard they were looking for him, only to be deprived of the opportunity to return to his home for more than two decades. The actual rapist was not immediately apprehended, thus his crime spree continued. Damon Thibodeaux became the 300th person exonerated via the use of DNA testing (http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Damon_Thibodeaux_Roundup_300_and_Counting.php.) Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row, in solitary confinement in one of the most notorious prisons in the country- Angola. No one was ever convicted for the actual murder for which he served all of these years.
If law enforcement would follow the evidence and not a theory, more criminals would be convicted and more innocent people will be able to continue to live their lives as productive citizens without being scarred for life, without bearing the burden of criminal, inmate, a number, a scourge of the earth. I once wrote a blog entitled “The Prosecutor and the Criminal” because of the ways in which some prosecutors behave to get a conviction. So, again, when Mr. Lemon asks when will we stop coddling people who engage in bad behavior, I ask when will we stop coddling prosecutors who behave badly?
Artemesia Stanberry, Ph.D.
Advocate for Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. www.freerodneystanberry.com and a longer version of this guest column can be found at www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog