GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) - Ken Anderson deliberately withheld evidence that might have helped Michael Morton avoid being wrongfully convicted of killing his wife in 1986, a judge ruled Friday.
The ruling means that Anderson, now a state district judge who was in the courtroom as the ruling came down, was in criminal contempt of court as Williamson County district attorney in the Morton case. He turned himself in after the ruling by Judge Louis Sturns. Anderson was allowed to return to his office after posting $2,500 bond on each charge.
"Mr. Anderson consciously chose to conceal the availability of the exculpatory evidence so he could convict Mr. Morton for murder," Sturns said. "This court cannot think of a more intrinsically harmful act than a prosecutor's intentional choice to hide evidence so as to convict a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence."
In his ruling, Sturns decided there was enough evidence to show Anderson was guilty on the three charges brought against him: criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records.
The ruling means that Anderson will be tried on the charges, but no trial date was set.
Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty said she's asking Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to act as the prosecutor in the case because her office has three assistant DAs assigned to Anderson's court.
Morton was exonerated in October 2011 when DNA evidence linked the murder of Christine Morton to Mark Alan Norwood, who is now serving a life sentence for the killing. Anderson has steadfastly insisted that he did not act inappropriately when he prosecuted the case.
"We should all stand up for what we have done, and know that no is above the law," Morton said. "I have said that I don't want Ken Anderson's head on a stick, and that's true, the system's going to do what the system does."
After it was over, the newly remarried Morton turned to his wife after the court action was completed and said, "It's honeymoon time."
During the testimony phase of the procedure, Anderson said he couldn't remember if he had evidence that could have cleared the man, including statements from the couple's young son that indicated his father wasn't the killer, according to a videotaped deposition played in court Tuesday.
On the witness stand, he apologized to Morton for the ordeal he went through because of the wrongful conviction.
"I know what me and my family have been through for 18 months of false accusations, and it doesn't even register in the same ballpark of what you went through," Anderson said to Morton
Morton, 58, was released from prison in October 2011 after new DNA tests showed that he didn't fatally beat his wife, Christine, in their north Austin home. Another man has been arrested for the murder.
"I'm probably one of the very few people who has a modest understanding of how Ken Anderson feels, and what he's going through, Morton said. "However, the more important thing here is there is transparency in our system, and there is accountability."
The special prosecutor in the case, Houston defense attorney Rusty Hardin, focused on whether Anderson failed to give Morton's trial lawyers a transcript and a report about statements made by Morton's then 3-year-old son. They boy said he witnessed the 1986 slaying and indicated it was a "monster" and not his father who committed the crime.
"I think the entire system of justice in Texas has benefited tremendously from this process and Michael's steadfast insistence that a wrong be righted," Hardin said.
"Neither Michael or I, or others involved with this, have been condemning prosecutors as a group," Hardin added. "The message here is, when it's done the wrong way, hopefully there's some changes that will be made that we can deal with."
During the eight-hour deposition in February, Anderson said he couldn't recall if at the time of the trial he had any documents about statements by Morton's son.
"There's no way in God's green earth that, if that was in my file, I wouldn't have told" Morton's attorneys about the boy's statements, Anderson said in the October 2011 deposition. He was being questioned by Barry Scheck, an attorney with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that helped secure the new DNA testing.
Anderson, who has apologized to Morton but denied any wrongdoing, said when allegations were made he had suppressed evidence, he wasn't worried because he believed Morton was guilty.
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