AUSTIN (KXAN) - A bill filed by a key lawmaker would change the statute of limitations for a prosecutor accused of wrongdoing.
State Sen. John Whitmire,a Houston Democrat who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the legislation was inspired by the high-profile wrongful conviction of Michael Morton and allegations of prosecutor misconduct in that case.
"The Morton case is a glaring example and there are others," said Whitmire. "It's just a human tragedy from start to end."
Whitmire's bill would reset the statute of limitations for prosecutors accused of breaking the law in wrongful convictions. Accountability would begin when the exonerated person is set free, instead of at the time of the original trial.
In the Morton case, state District Judge Ken Anderson, the original prosecutor, has said he did not hide evidence that could have set Morton free, as Morton and his attorneys have claimed. But in court documents, Anderson said he believed the statute of limitations has run out on any misconduct allegations against him.
"I think that's flawed and we're attempting to correct that," Whitmire said. "I don't want to just drill down on the Morton case, I want to fix the cases that we may not know about."
Since his release in October 2011 after 25 years in prison, Morton has been an outspoken advocate for stiffer penalties for prosecutors who break the law.
"This is an important step to ensuring that even when delayed, justice should always be served. As long as somebody is in prison as a result of fraudulent or illegal activity from an over-zealous prosecutor, they shouldn't have their ability to have their day in court taken from them," Morton said in a statement.
Whitmire's bill would also require a public reprimand for any prosecutor found guilty of withholding evidence that could help a defendant.
A judge is considering evidence presented in a special court inquiry earlier this month to determine if Anderson withheld evidence that could have been favorable to Morton in his original trial.
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