The Austin Chronicle

Holding Prosecutors Accountable

By Jordan Smith, February 26, 2013, 2:25pm, Newsdesk

In an effort to combat the growing number of wrongful convictions in Texas, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, on Tuesday filed a bill that would expand the statute of limitations for filing with the State Bar grievances alleging prosecutorial misconduct.

Senate Bill 825 would start once a person is released from prison on a wrongful conviction the four-year statute of limitations for pursuing a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct with the State Bar of Texas. The current statute begins the clock at the time the violation occurs.

The proposed change in the law was prompted by the plight of Michael Morton who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine. Morton was finally released from prison in 2011 after evidence testing revealed the DNA of another man, Mark Alan Norwood, was mingled with Christine's blood on a discarded blue bandana found after the murder behind the Morton's home.

As it turns out, there were other items of evidence that were not provided to Morton's defense at trial by then-District Attorney Ken Anderson, but that could also have demonstrated Morton's innocence – including reports that a strange man in a green van had been seen near the Morton's home in the days leading up to the slaying, and a transcript of a conversation between Christine's mother and the case's lead investigator where she says that Morton's three-year-old son witnessed a "monster," not Morton, kill her daughter.

The State Bar of Texas filed a lawsuit last year accusing Anderson of failing to comply with evidence disclosure laws. That action is pending. And Anderson, now a district judge, earlier this month was subject of a rare court-of-inquiry to determine whether he should be held accountable for failing to provide the exculpatory evidence, as was his duty by law to disclose.

Anderson has denied the accusations, and has also questioned the ability to raise the issue so many years after the fact.

Whitmire's bill would also eliminate the ability of attorneys found guilty of misconduct to be privately disciplined, requiring at least a public reprimand of any attorney found to have violated the discovery rule. "This is a common-sense policy to advance justice to those who have been wrongfully convicted," Whitmire said in a press release.

Morton called the bill an "important step" to ensuring that "even when delayed, justice should always be served."

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