GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) - Michael Morton walked out of the Georgetown courthouse late Tuesday afternoon a free man after 25 years behind bars. But first, he gave an interview to members of the media, as did his attorneys and parents.
"It's the best day," said Morton's mother, Patricia Morton, before the hearing began. She and Michael's father, Bill Morton, waited Tuesday in the courtroom for their son to arrive in court, smiles on their faces.
Morton walked into the courtroom at 3:14 p.m., dressed in a white long-sleeved, open-collar striped shirt, along with attorneys Barry Sheck and Nina Morrison. They joined attorney John Raley at the defense table. Morton, his formerly dark hair now a silvery gray, smiled broadly as he waited for the hearing to start. He read a few documents that his lawyers put before him, the stillness of the room heavy with corraled excitement, as water held behind a dam.
Morton's mother cried quietly as her son entered the room, and the elderly couple waved at him.
At 3:28 p.m., all of the attorneys went with Judge Sid Harle back to the judge's chambers. At 3:40 p.m., the proceedings started with Raley explaining the current status of the case. Sheck and Morrison added information before the judge.
Harle was swift in his actions -- and offered an apology for what Morton had been through, wrongly imprisoned for 25 years -- before releasing him to his friends and family.
"I have recommended to the Court of Appeals on count one, to accept my finding," he said. He offered his apologies and said, "You have my sympathy. You have my apologies ... We don't have the greatest system ... it shows ultimately that justice will be served."
"This is new to me, so bear with me," Michael Morton said in an interview with media a few minutes later. "I thank God this wasn't a capital case, that I only had life [in prison] because it gave these 'saints' here at the Innocence Project to do this ... I know you have a lot you want to ask me, but I can't right now ... colors seem real bright to me now. I will say this, women are real good looking."
Laughter erupted at that last statement.
Morton's mother thanked the attorneys for the work on the case. "God bless all of the staff that worked so hard for us."
"I can't say anything better than what my wife had to say," said Bill Morton. "We're so thankful the truth came out, and we're so happy, happy, happy."
Raley said that Michael Morton's story needs to be told.
"This is a man I've been honored to serve," Raley said. "I want you to know who he is, and his story needs to be told ... He lost a big part of his life. Almost 25 years."
Morrison added her comments about the case.
"We have serious and important leads," she said, about the case that has not gone cold. She explained that there are counties in Texas that have operated under a policy of open files and information has been shared.
The media was asked not to follow the family and attorneys to dinner, but to let them have privacy.
Watch KXAN News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. for updates on this story.
The judge approved the personal recognizance bond and said Morton would be let free from the courtroom, waiving any personal interview -- and the hearing quickly concluded to loud applause in the room at 3:43 p.m.
Thirty-two years old when convicted, Morton is now 57. He was transferred midday Tuesday from a prison in North Texas to the Georgetown courthouse.
Harle overturned Morton's murder conviction Monday after new DNA evidence suggests another man is responsible for his wife's beating death in 1986.
It's a day he's been waiting for since his conviction in 1987, when he said the following to a KXAN News reporter following the verdict:
Reporter: "Did it surprise you?"
Morton: "Yes, it did. Real shocked. I didn't do this."
Reporter: "I'm sorry, what?"
Morton: "I didn't do this."
His attorneys said new DNA results prove Morton did not kill Christine Morton back in 1986, and they asked in court on Monday that Michael Morton be released immediately.
Raley and Sheck -- of the New York-based Innocence Project and part of the defense team -- appeared Monday on Morton's behalf. Raley, a Houston lawyer, has worked pro bono on the Morton case since 2003. Also on the defense team and in court Monday was Morrison.
- Click here to read the 97-page court document summarizing the case.
- Click here to see a timeline of events
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley agreed Monday that Morton needed to be released but stopped short of saying he's innocent.
"Innocent is a very specific word, and I am going to say that the evidence right now justifies his reversal," said Bradley. "We have continuing investigative work to do before it would be appropriate for me to express an opinion about that."
Still, Bradley agreed to vacate Morton's conviction, which means to set it aside or void it.
"When this case was decided, the ink was barely dry on my license," Bradley said on
Bradley added that a prosecutor's job is to see that justice is done. He said sometimes the pros have to be called in to re-examine cases and make sure the defense meets certain standards.
Bradley said this is the type of the newly discovered evidence that warrants vacating a conviction.
Christine Morton was found beaten to death on Aug. 13, 1986, in the couple's Round Rock home. The following year, a jury convicted Michael Morton of killing her and sentenced him to life in prison. He has always maintained his innocence.
In August, a bombshell was revealed in court. New DNA testing on a bloody bandanna discovered near the crime scene found Christine Morton's DNA mixed with the DNA of a known violent offender, someone who is not Michael Morton.
Last week came another revelation in court: that the case may be related to a cold case being investigated in Travis County. Specifics of this case had previously not been revealed due to a gag order issued by the court, but that was lifted on Monday.
However, the suspect's name will not be released. Officials said they believe he committed a later, similar murder in Travis County.
"His record includes extensive drug abuse, burglary of a residence for which he was convicted of a felony, assault, including assault with intent to murder," Raley said of the man who is now suspected of Christine Morton's murder.
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