A former Texas prosecutor and judge surrendered his law license earlier this month and agreed to serve nine days in jail for withholding evidence in the murder trial of an innocently convicted man who spent 25 years in prison.
Ken Anderson’s hearing took place in the same courthouse where he presided over cases as a Texas district court judge in Austin. Anderson agreed not to contest a criminal contempt order after being arrested last April on a felony tampering with evidence charge, a misdemeanor tampering with a government record charge, and the contempt finding for lying to a judge during a pretrial hearing for the man, Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life in prison for murdering his wife.
The case against Anderson was pursued by Morton’s attorneys after Morton was freed from prison when DNA tests implicated another man in the murder of his wife Christine back in 1986. Morton was freed and exonerated in 2011 after spending twenty-five years in prison.
Morton’s attorneys argued that former prosecutor Anderson withheld two key pieces of evidence during Morton’s trial: an interview with Morton’s mother-in-law, in which she stated Morton’s three-year-old son witnessed the murder and said his father was not home at the time; and second, a police report saying the driver of a green van had parked and walked behind the Morton house before the murder.
Two months after a “court of inquiry” into Anderson’s handling of Morton’s case, a judge found that Anderson had violated two anti-tampering laws and that he also committed criminal contempt of court by lying to Morton’s trial judge.
Morton’s attorneys as well others who represent the wrongfully convicted, said that they expect the impact of Anderson’s case to be far reaching. Barry Scheck, one of the founders of the Innocence Project in New York and one of Morton’s attorneys, said, “This is a big day for a lot of reasons. We have never heard of any prosecutor being punished for deliberately refusing to turn over exculpatory evidence.”
Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association said the outcome was not a surprise to Texas prosecutors, as they have been following the case and have been working to improve the state’s judicial system, as well. He also stated that state prosecutors have worked with state lawmakers to pass the Michael Morton Act, an act designed to “ensure that prosecutors share evidence with defense attorneys and prevent wrongful convictions in the State of Texas.”
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