Morton Bill Poised to Become Law
With Michael Morton watching from the gallery, the Texas House on Monday afternoon passed two measures designed to prevent wrongful convictions – like that of Morton, who spent nearly a quarter-century behind bars for a murder he did not commit.
Senate Bill 1611, by Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, requires broad open-file discovery to ensure defense access to police reports and witness statements, among other evidence. The measure also reaffirms the commitment memorialized in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which requires the state to provide a defendant with exculpatory, impeaching, or mitigating evidence. Monday's voice vote coincided with the 50th anniversary of the high court's Brady ruling.
The chamber also gave the nod of approval to SB 825, by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, which would extend the amount of time that an exoneree has to file a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct with the State Bar of Texas. The measure also makes public any reprimand or discipline a prosecutor may receive.
Morton was convicted in 1987 of the murder a year before of his wife – a murder that DNA ultimately proved he did not commit. At trial, then-Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a district judge, withheld from Morton's defense critical evidence that could have demonstrated that someone other than Morton was responsible for his wife, Christine's murder.
Both measures are set for final passage today and will then be sent to Gov. Rick Perry for signing into law.