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Updated: Wednesday, 28 Mar 2012, 5:57 PM CDT
Published : Tuesday, 27 Mar 2012, 8:05 PM CDT
AUSTIN (KXAN) - In the six months since his release from prison, Michael Morton has reunited with the son from whom he was estranged for years and became a grandfather.
"I hope she never discovers that I have a credit card," Morton laughed. "She can't even talk and she's got me wrapped around her little finger. She's beautiful, she's precious. She's, you know, she's perfect."
Her name is Christine Marie, after her grandmother, Christine, who was murdered in the couple's home in 1986. Michael Morton was wrongly convicted for the crime the following year and sentenced to life in prison.
It seemed unlikely even one year ago that Morton would be cradling his baby granddaughter in his arms. When his son Eric turned 18, he changed his name and stopped contacting his father. He was adopted by his aunt and uncle.
"They're good people and they did a stellar job of raising him. He's a good young man," said Morton. "But he was one of the very few things that I had left and I literally felt like I lost him. I was completely broken. I was bankrupt and empty. And I literally cried out to God, 'Show me something, you there. I got nothing here.'"
Morton said he is not a "penitentiary Christian," but he did have what he describes as an interaction with God when he was in prison and said he knew then that he would get out of prison one day.
"Somebody asked me one time, had I mourned the loss of my wife, had I mourned for Chris? And it occurred to me that I probably hadn't anymore than those months right after her death because living in prison is a very immediate experience. There are things that are right there in your face that must be dealt with now," Morton said.
Adjusting to prison
He said life in prison was harsh, constant moving around, hot summers and cold winters. He recalls the first day he was there.
"On my very first day in, back then the place we received our boots, you came in, you get stripped naked. You get searched. They give you some boxers and you pick up some boots. And there was a guy in front of me getting his boots. And I wasn't doing a lot of talking -- I was doing a lot of watching -- and I counted 13 stab wounds in this guy's back. Scars," said Morton. "And I realized that this place is real serious and these people aren't playing around."
Morton said he got into fights in prison, but was never seriously injured or attacked.
In 2011, a judge ordered DNA testing on a bloody bandana found near the crime scene. District Attorney John Bradley, who was not involved in Morton's original prosecution, had been fighting the testing in court for more than six years. Morton said he would like to speak to Bradley in private about his decision.
"I'm afraid that the politicians we often need respond one way under the lights of scrutiny and then another way when it's just you and me talking," Morton said of Bradley.
On his birthday in 2011, Morton learned from Houston pro bono attorney John Raley and Nina Morrison, an attorney with the Innocence Project of New York, that the DNA test results on the bandana matched a known violent offender, Mark Norwood, who has now been charged with Christine Morton's murder.
New relationship with his son
For Morton, the most important thing in the six months he's been a free man has been re-establishing a relationship with his son, who he says now believes completely in his father's innocence.
"We just fell into this real natural cadence of talking and we were talking about family and what had been going on and it was some of the best time I'd had in years and years and years and we really seemed to connect then," said Morton.
Reuniting with his son has been the joy, but Morton knows there is an upcoming trial for the man accused of killing his wife. He does not know yet how much he will participate in that trial or even if he wants to be present.
He said he feels deep sympathy for the family of Debra Baker. Norwood is also a suspect in her killing, but has not been charged.
"I cannot imagine what they're going through. I have a lot of answers to my questions, but they have the extra burden of knowing that had I not been framed like this. Their mother, their wife, their sister -- she would be alive today. If the right thing had been done, they may have actually caught Norwood and prevented their mother's murder," said Morton.
Williamson County District Attorney's actions
Morton feels he was framed by what he calls the "sin of omission."
"It's a different word and different connotation but when you keep back information evidence, things that would show your innocence, I'm not sure what other word to use really -- I think it's appropriate -- monkeying with the time of death the way they did, keeping the information about the van, the funny things in the neighborhood, the credit card, Eric's recitation of what he saw, all of that stuff is tantamount to being framed."
Morton said he will crusade for prosecutor accountability and does not accept former District Attorney Ken Anderson's
testimony that he does not remember why that evidence was not made available to Morton's defense attorneys at the time of the trial.
"I think that the people of Williamson County -- and most people in general -- are very forgiving and understanding if the person is very forthcoming and honest, and the mea culpas come forth ... saying, man, did I mess up here," he said.
"And maybe even giving some reasons why, what made me do this," he said. "Or why did I decide this was the best route. I don't remember works for some of the details but not for everything.
"You've heard me say I don't want Ken Anderson's head on a stick. But what I'm looking for, or what I would hope comes out of it at the end is something that prevents it from happening to anybody else."
Morton said he also would like to change the law to remove the protections against allowing prosecutors to be sued in civil court over actions they take in the course of the duties.
"Another thing that's hand-in-glove with this may be through the State Bar [of Texas] where every prosecutor signs a document that's part of the record of every case that he has provided everything to the defense so they're starting with a level playing field," he said.
Life for Morton has fallen in to an easy rhythm in East Texas, where he said he enjoys some anonymity. He received $2 million from the state of Texas for his wrongful incarceration and is looking for property outside of Texas. He has been dating a woman for about two months, he said.
"I had never had a woman ask me out before, and uh, I literally had the phone in my hand and scratched my head and said, 'Well, uh, OK.' Just a coffee date but it turned into a four-hour conversation," he said.
Morton does not know what he will do next, aside from crusade for reform and prosecutor accountability. He said he does not grieve for the time he lost.
"It's not what happens to you, it's how you deal with it," he said. "You know that old trope. Well, it's true and whoever you are, it's because of what's happened to you."
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