GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) - Michael Morton's original lawyer testified Wednesday that then-District Attorney Ken Anderson stiff-armed the defense's efforts to gain access to evidence that might have helped their case 25 years ago.
It was a no-discovery case," said Bill White, who is still a practicing lawyer. "We did not get any discovery as to anyone's statements -- period."
The testimony in the Williamson County courtroom came on Day 3 in the court of inquiry proceedings convened to determine if Anderson, now a state district judge, improperly withheld evidence that would have helped Morton while he was on trial in his wife's murder in 1986.
Morton would be convicted and sentenced to life in prison. But in October 2011, DNA evidence put someone else at the crime scene and Morton was set free and formally exonerated.
Anderson has said he was "sick" to learn that Morton was wrongly convicted, but has steadfastly insisted that his conduct during the prosecution of the case was handled properly.
But White testified that attempts to get a look at the sheriff's office case file developed in preparation for Morton's tial were denied by Anderson. And, White continued, that although the defense was eventually given access to physical evidence such as fingerprints and a test on a woodchip, his team received little else.
White said it was not until 2011 that he ever knew about the transcript detailing comments from Morton's 3-year-old son about the "monster that hurt Mommy" or and offense report citing a green van that parked near the Morton's home with a suspicious man who got out and walked into the woods.
"I was certainly shocked to see them," said White.
Having access to that evidence would have given "meat to the bones" of the defense's argument, White said. He and partner, Bill Allison ,tried to build their case to show that an intruder entered the home through a sliding glass door and killed Christine Morton.
Special prosecutor Rusty Hardin read through the opening statement made by Anderson in the 1987 murder trial in which he told the jury the evidence would show Morton stole his wife's purse. Later discovery showed the purse had been stolen and White thinks had that discovery been allowed to take place, it may have help acquit Morton.
After looking at the transcript of Don Wood's conversation with Rita Kirkpatrick (Christine's mother) about what Eric saw the day of the murder, White sees Wood's attempts to change Rita's opinion as a sign the state had already made up their mind about what happened and rushed to judge Morton as guilty without discovering all the evidence.
Earlier Wednesday, Judge Doug Arnold of Williamson County was called to testify about his role working for Anderson while he was the district attorney.
During his testimony, Arnold, now a county court at law judge,discussed policies about sharing exculpatory evidence with defense attorneys as well as former Williamson DA John Bradley's fight against DNA testing in the Michael Morton case.
Arnold previously had worked in Harris County where an open-file policy allows all attorneys to take a look at whatever evidence is discovered. He told the court that Williamson County had no such policy, but he always turned over all evidence while working as a prosecutor.
He stated that he preferred the open-file policy, because he had nothing to worry about as a prosecutor about running into the issue of not sharing evidence with the defense.
A meeting between Arnold and Anderson in 1998 was recalled when Anderson discussed with him a practice of not calling an investigating officer to the witness stand.
Arnold testified that Anderson used the practice because by calling the officer to the stand, the defense team would be granted access to all notes and reports from that officer.
When discussing John Bradley, Arnold recalled a 2005 meeting between the DA and the Innocence Project. Attorneys for the Innocence Project told Bradley they wanted to do DNA testing for the Morton case, but Bradley would only agree to allow testing of a hair found at the crime scene. The meeting ended abruptly when Bradley declined to allow testing on other items including the bandana that ultimately led to Morton's exoneration.
Arnold testified that Bradley would then tell him they were going to fight all DNA testing.
While being cross-examined by Anderson's legal team, Arnold said that he did not like what was going on in the DA's office during that time and that he felt horrible for Mr. Morton.
Anderson's attorneys presented The Brady Rule as it was known at the time of Morton's trial.
"The prosecutor is not required to deliver his entire file to defense counsel, but only to disclose evidence favorable to the accused that, if suppressed, would deprive the defendant of a fair trial…."
Arnold went on to say that while working with Ken Anderson, he considered Anderson an ethical person and would not have worked with him if he felt otherwise.
Anderson swore Arnold in when he became
a judge in 2010.
Former Williamson County Assistant DA Kristine Jernigan testified about her time working for John Bradley and specifically the matters concerning DNA testing of items in the Morton case file.
Jernigan was placed in charge of the Morton file after Arnold left the DA's office. In an affidavit from the Innocence Project, Jernigan is cited as believing field notes from Sgt. Don Wood (the investigating officer for Christine Morton's murder) had not been given to Judge William Lott for review and that she supported unsealing the Morton file to examine if his conviction should be relieved.
Jernigan received an email from Bradley on August 19, 2011, the same day Bradley received a motion to recuse himself from the matters dealing with Morton.
The email read:
"Please contact Ken and make sure he gets a copy of the motion and reads it. He needs to understand that he will likely be the object of a claim that he committed a Brady violation at trail by not disclosing certain matters involving the interview of a grandmother. He needs to become familiar with the file and refresh his memory so that he can state with clarity whether he provided discovery of those matters and the circumstances surrounding discovery."
A conversation between Jernigan and Anderson took place shortly after in which Anderson told her that Judge Lott had a common practice of handling matters off-the-record and any potential evidence alleged to be withheld may have been discussed with defense attorneys off-record.
During other conversations, Jernigan said Anderson once became short with her when she asked him for an affidavit explaining the reasons for the missing evidence. He claimed he did not remember all details about the Morton case.
In another meeting in September of 2011, Anderson spoke with Jernigan about some questions he had with contact DNA and whether the bandana may have been contaminated. Jernigan testified that Anderson continued to maintain Morton was guilty.
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