Morton Prosecutor Wrote the Book on Crime
Judge Ken Anderson as a prosecutor leapt to judgment on Morton
According to Williamson County 277th District Court Judge Ken Anderson, who prior to 2002 spent 16½ years as district attorney, having the "right people" working in law enforcement – police and prosecutors – is crucial. "We all have a stake in having the right people in these jobs," Anderson wrote in his 1997 book, Crime in Texas: Your Complete Guide to the Criminal Justice System. He also wrote: "Our government's first obligation is the protection of its citizens. As a society, we don't need to accept locked doors, burglar alarms, and fear as inevitable. We need to demand from our legislators, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials a system that first and foremost keeps us safe."
At issue now is whether Anderson has lived up to his words – most specifically, whether he was the "right" person to serve as district attorney and prosecutor of Michael Morton, who was recently released from prison after DNA testing demonstrated that he was not responsible for murdering his wife, Christine, in Georgetown in 1986. Anderson may have played a lead role in not only violating the public trust but also in making Central Texas a more dangerous place by deliberately hiding evidence from Morton's defense. The evidence could have demonstrated 25 years ago that someone else was responsible for Christine's murder – and likely responsible for at least one other murder, that of Austin mother Debra Masters Baker, who was killed in her home a year and a half after the Morton murder.
That Michael Morton did not kill his wife is certain. Prosecuted by Anderson and sentenced to life in prison in 1987, Morton was finally freed last month and declared innocent by the courts. After years of refusal by Anderson's successor, D.A. John Bradley, to allow DNA testing on a bloody bandana found right after the murder near the Morton home where Christine was bludgeoned to death in her bed, the tests, finally court-ordered, revealed her DNA mingled with that of a then-unknown male.
That man, 57-year-old Mark Alan Norwood, was arrested in Bastrop on Nov. 9 and has been charged with the capital murder of Christine Morton. Additional analysis has also matched Norwood's DNA profile to a hair found at the Baker crime scene, where the young mother was found bludgeoned to death in 1988 in her North Austin home. Norwood had moved to Austin's Crestview neighborhood in 1985, just blocks from the Baker home.
How it happened that police and prosecutors focused so exclusively on Morton for his wife's murder is the subject of an ongoing investigation under the oversight of Judge Sid Harle. So far, lawyers for Morton have deposed three key witnesses: Anderson; his second chair for the prosecution, Mike Davis (now a defense attorney); and former Williamson County Sheriff's Sgt. Don Wood, lead investigator on the Morton murder. Copies of the Anderson and Wood depositions have not been publicly released, but according to a transcript of the Davis deposition, it appears Anderson played a key role in driving the investigation toward Morton. He was perhaps also responsible for failing to release to Morton's defense key pieces of information that would have cast serious doubt on the state's case.
Among that evidence is a transcript of a conversation between Morton's son Eric and his grandmother that occurred 11 days after the murder. According to Eric, then 3 years old, his father was not home when the "monster" killed his mother. He recounted key details, including that the man – "a monster with a big moustache," as his grandmother, Rita Kirkpatrick, told Wood – had used a piece of wood to bludgeon Christine and that he threw a blue suitcase on her body. His father, Eric told Kirkpatrick, was not home at the time of the crime. Moreover, a check sent to Christine by a relative was cashed days after the murder, endorsed by someone other than Christine, and just two days after the murder, someone in San Antonio reported that a woman had tried to use Morton's credit card.
Davis told Gerald Goldstein, one of Morton's lawyers, that he wasn't aware of any of those details – and that he was troubled to learn only recently that the evidence existed before Morton was tried. It appears that the transcript (according to a notation at the bottom) was provided to the D.A. by Wood, and Davis said he believes Anderson had "an affirmative duty" to release the exculpatory information to Morton's defense. Davis also described Anderson as a man who tightly controlled every aspect of the Morton prosecution.
It's not surprising then that Anderson, in Crime in Texas, writes that the theory of the Morton crime was his: "The defendant and his wife had celebrated his birthday the night before at the City Grill," he wrote. "My theory of the crime was that after returning home, he wanted to have sex. When she said no, he savagely beat her to death." The "critical" proof of that, he writes, is that food was found in her stomach that matched food the couple had eaten the night before (that is, not yet digested at the time of her death). That was enough for Anderson – regardless of other evidence pointing toward someone from outside the home.
In his deposition, Davis said he went to Anderson's office recently, after learning about Eric's statements, to ask if the information had been turned over to Morton's team in 1987. "And so I went to Judge Anderson's office and asked him, 'Were you aware of that?'" Davis recalled. "And he says, 'We turned it over.'"
"That's what you were concerned about. That's what you were asking him about," Goldstein replied.
"Yeah, because that would just be horrible if that didn't happen."
Under further questioning, Davis said Anderson either "implied or he stated" that the information was turned over. Goldstein asked him which it was. "The first thing [Anderson] said was, 'Did you try this case with me?'" Davis responded. "So he didn't even remember at that time. The second thing was, 'Well, I'll just blame it all on you.' But he laughed when he said that, so I hope that wasn't correct."
"Do you have any confidence that he won't?" Goldstein asked.
"I don't know," Davis responded. "I – no, I don't know."
Whether Anderson deliberately failed to turn over the evidence is now also the subject of a Texas Bar investigation. Intentional or not, the failure to follow the obvious leads in the case has had serious impact. Not only did Morton spend 25 years behind bars, but at least one other person, Baker, lost her life in a crime that possibly could have been avoided. At first Austin police focused on Baker's husband, but after they cleared him, the case went cold. Now with the new DNA evidence link to Norwood, the investigation has been reinvigorated; an official Austin Police Department statement says the department is aware of the Norwood arrest and is "committed to a thorough investigation" of the Baker murder.
Norwood has lived in at least three states besides Texas and trails a rap sheet behind him from each – including counts of drug possession, aggravated assault, and arson, reported YNN. Whether he has also left a trail that links him to any other unsolved murders is unclear.