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A Prosecutor’s Conscious Choice
April 19, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

“This court cannot think of a more intentionally harmful act than a prosecutor’s conscious choice to hide mitigating evidence so as to create an uneven playing field for a defendant facing a murder charge and a life sentence." A Texas court finds probable cause that ex-District Attorney Ken Anderson intentionally hid evidence to secure a 1987 murder conviction against the now-exonerated Michael Morton. (Previously.)

Morton was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on February 17, 1989. He was released on October 4, 2011. He was officially exonerated on December 19, 2011.

Anderson is facing a charge of tampering with physical evidence (a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison), a charge of tampering with a government record (a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail), and a show cause order for criminal contempt of court (punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail). He is also being sued by the State Bar of Texas for his conduct in the Morton case. He does not yet have to step down from his position as a district judge. His term expires in 2014.
posted by SpringAquifer (21 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, he allegedly lied to a judge, destroyed or concealed evidence, and sent a guy to prison for murder, leaving the guy's three year old child without available parents, and the maximum penalty is ... eleven and a half years in prison and a $500 fine?
posted by zippy at 5:56 PM on April 19, 2013 [16 favorites]


If he had argued in favor of a death penalty for Morton, could Anderson be charged with attempted murder?
posted by fredludd at 6:01 PM on April 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


I'm not a fan of extreme sentencing, but it seems like the minimum sentence in a case like this should be longer than what the wrongfully-convicted person has served.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:10 PM on April 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


You'd hope that the punishment for this kind of behavior was greater, but it's a good step that we are even seeing this case, given the usual vast chasm of deference given to prosecutors.
posted by gjc at 6:11 PM on April 19, 2013 [17 favorites]


What a horrific, intentional miscarriage of justice. If the justice system is the pointy end of the state's monopoly on violence in our society, then misusing it should be the worst crime we have.

If he did indeed illegitimately deprive Morton of his liberty, he did so on OUR behalf. He not only committed a horrific crime, but he put that shame on the rest of us, and for that, he should be cast out.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:12 PM on April 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


I'd settle for weaksauce sentencing if it meant seeing more cases like this prosecuted.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:22 PM on April 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


What no one has been able to adequately explain to me is why. Why on earth did they continue to prosecute and then fight to keep him in jail when there was this other evidence LITERALLY UNDER THEIR NOSE? Reading both parts of the story, I could not get past this hard-headed insistence of an alternate reality where Morton really was guilty when the overwhelming evidence pointed to someone else entirely.

And, it's happening all over again.
posted by Leezie at 6:25 PM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


It should be noted that Morton's life was not the only one affected: Debra Masters Baker was murdered by the same man who killed Morton's wife, while Morton was in prison. A good police investigation that focused on finding the criminal rather than putting someone in jail would have prevented this murder.

“It is difficult for us to process the reality that Debra might still be with us if evidence in the Morton case had been handled in the manner required by law,” the family said.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:28 PM on April 19, 2013 [18 favorites]


I vote for sticking him in an oubliette.

No whimsical talking hands, either. Just darkness and thinking about what he's done.
posted by wires at 6:31 PM on April 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Prison will be interesting for this one.
posted by caddis at 6:39 PM on April 19, 2013


Look, I understand the case is maddening, but our national obsession with punishment over due process is exactly the problem. Please don't get sidetracked.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:40 PM on April 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


What no one has been able to adequately explain to me is why. Why on earth did they continue to prosecute and then fight to keep him in jail when there was this other evidence LITERALLY UNDER THEIR NOSE? Reading both parts of the story, I could not get past this hard-headed insistence of an alternate reality where Morton really was guilty when the overwhelming evidence pointed to someone else entirely.

Have you ever worked in a place where the boss gets an idea in his head and the more evidence proves him or her wrong, the more convinced he gets that if we only just work harder, we can really nail it down? Because I have and that had the ring of familiarity to me.

People have a hard time admitting they were wrong, so they come up with more and more outlandish ways they've just been proven right by the evidence that proves them wrong.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 6:49 PM on April 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


"What no one has been able to adequately explain to me is why."

Prosecutors campaign on conviction rate, not on "amount of justice done."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:30 PM on April 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


It should be noted that Morton's life was not the only one affected: Debra Masters Baker was murdered by the same man who killed Morton's wife, while Morton was in prison. A good police investigation that focused on finding the criminal rather than putting someone in jail would have prevented this murder.

“It is difficult for us to process the reality that Debra might still be with us if evidence in the Morton case had been handled in the manner required by law,” the family said.


Hmm...a felony, and a death was a result of the commission of that felony. This seems to me that a felony murder rule would apply.
posted by stevis23 at 9:33 PM on April 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


You're mis-using the word "result."
posted by ShutterBun at 11:56 PM on April 19, 2013


Prosecutors campaign on conviction rate, not on "amount of justice done."

This.

So many of these wrongful convictions happen because the D.A. or police focus on an easy to convict suspect, rather than actually investigating properly and once somebody like this is convicted, they double down on keeping them in jail in the name of law and order.

“It is difficult for us to process the reality that Debra might still be with us if evidence in the Morton case had been handled in the manner required by law,” the family said.

But actions have consequences, as Debra Masters Baker unfortunately found out. For every innocent person in jail a criminal is still roaming outside, free to commit more crimes. Which is something I wish liberal do gooders would stress more when being attacked about coddling criminals for actually wanting to exonerate innocent people.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:30 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of this case.
posted by 1367 at 2:35 AM on April 20, 2013


I live in Texas, born and raised. And for a long time I was pro death penalty. Some crimes were so heinous that the perpetrators deserved death. I still feel that way, but a while back I realized how fallible our criminal justice system is even when it works without fraud, and decided that the risk of putting to death an innocent was too great. Imprisoning someone for twenty years mistakenly is no small thing, but at least they can be released and have a chance at a life.

After watching this episode of Frontline, I also realized the degree of corruption that could occur trying to coverup a mistaken conviction. The suppression of the results of arson panel by the Governor's office is unjustifiable.
posted by beowulf573 at 6:43 AM on April 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


[Comment deleted. Let's restrain ourselves with imagining violent/extreme retribution for this person. And, yep, I get that the last one was ironic; but let's pass on all that. Thanks, all.]
posted by taz at 11:38 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My second cousin was a DA, who engaged in prosecutorial misconduct, and then killed himself right before he was going to be found out. My family attended his funeral in 1998, but we didn't find out why he had killed himself until several months ago, when I was tracing my maternal family tree. I asked, "Hey, what was the name of your cousin who killed himself when I was in high school?" and down the rabbit hole we went.

No idea how my side of the family remained in the dark about it for that long. His case was featured one hour into the 10-year anniversary episode of Investigative Reports, for god's sake. (Which can be seen here, apparently.)

Some members of my family are in serious denial about what Cousin DA obviously did, although some of them follow Ghostride the Whip's sort of reasoning. And of course, some people think he just made a hugely negligent mistake, and then killed himself out of guilt. I really don't think it was a mistake, but I do think that he put an innocent guy on death row for no readily obvious reason. And then the guy died in prison, of cancer. Just terrible. Makes me wonder how many other people he threw under the bus.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:25 PM on April 21, 2013


The outrage in the first few comments clearly shows the general problem that punishments must be doled out kind-of-logarithmically.

Assume you put the prosecutor behind bars for 15 years, how do you handle a prosecutor who caused two men to be incarcerated for eleven years? Thirty years in prison? That clearly doesn't scale, although Americans like to act as if it would, handing out prison terms like three hundred years.

And what if he caused a man to be executed? Execute him, because you want to fit the verdict to the outcome of the crime?

But then, how do you dogmatically separate that from a guy who stole a woman's purse, made her stumble in the process, she falls and dies?

Sentencing is a hard problem. Gut reactions are almost always wrong.
posted by 2uo at 10:28 AM on April 30, 2013


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