The Innocent Man
November 20, 2012 1:51 PM   Subscribe

'On April 12, 1987, Michael Morton sat down to write a letter. “Your Honor,” he began, “I’m sure you remember me. I was convicted of murder, in your court, in February of this year.” He wrote each word carefully, sitting cross-legged on the top bunk in his cell at the Wynne prison unit, in Huntsville. “I have been told that you are to decide if I am ever to see my son, Eric, again. I haven’t seen him since the morning that I was convicted. I miss him terribly and I know that he has been asking about me.” Referring to the declarations of innocence he had made during his trial, he continued, “I must reiterate my innocence. I did NOT kill my wife.'

Texas Monthly tells the story (in two elaborate parts) of Michael Morton and his efforts to prove his innocence in a court of law and to his son. For twenty five years.

One page print version: part 1, 2.
posted by mahershalal (33 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
"We have the best justice system in the world." An amazing, riveting, infuriating article.
posted by john wilkins at 2:35 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't want to derail (I've sent the article to my Kindle so haven't read it yet) but does anybody have any idea what's up with Texas Monthly and their (awesome-to-me) true crime stories? Obviously, there's some sort of confirmation bias maybe (I'm only aware of them because they are the type of long form stories I'm going to be interested in/are posted here or elsewhere online) -- but they've even released a book apparently.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:47 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

I read this a few days ago, and it was quite heartbreaking.

There was a recent AMA on reddit with Clarence Harrison and Robert Clark - two people who were proven innocent with the help of the Georgia Innocence Project and DNA testing. They had already spent 18 years and 24 years, respectively, in jail though.
posted by vidur at 3:02 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Man alive, but my instapaper button is getting a workout today. Thanks for posting this - looking forward to reading it later tonight.
posted by jquinby at 3:10 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

John Bradley, the Williamson County DA who fought DNA testing for so long in Morton's case, lost in the May primary to Jana Duty. Duty won election this month and is already preparing to clean house in the DA's office.
posted by katemonster at 3:11 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

Fucking sheriff railroaded the guy.

I am against the death penalty. It is too lenient for the guilty and abject misjustice upon the innocent. However, exceptions should be made for law enforcement and prosecutors who knowingly put the wrong person in jail.

I mean, for lack of a better word, fuckin' DUHHHHHH putting the wrong person in jail lets the culprit off the hook, free to do more damage!

(then again, for some psychopaths in law enforcement, maybe they consider that job security...)
posted by notsnot at 3:18 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

25 years of his life, they took away. They deprived a three-year-old boy who had just lost his mother of his father, too. And they did it because they couldn't be bothered to follow any of the evidence that didn't fit in with their preconceived (and rather implausible) theories? And they don't appear to have any guilt over it. I'm so appalled I don't even know where to begin.
posted by bardophile at 3:19 PM on November 20, 2012 [16 favorites]

For several minutes, everyone stood and applauded as Michael smiled broadly, his face electrified by the joy of the moment. “I thank God this wasn’t a capital case,” he told the crowd of reporters and TV cameramen.

A staggering read.
posted by rory at 3:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

We could fix this with one law:

"If you are found liable by a civil court of law for the wrongful persecution of any American citizen, you will be subject to serve the duration and extent of the wrongfully accused's punishment served; including death where applicable."
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 3:29 PM on November 20, 2012 [24 favorites]

That was a riveting read and a heartbreaking story. This is why I oppose the death penalty.

I remember as a law student in the 1980s being utterly aghast at Lord Denning, one of England's most revered and respected senior judges. When the railroaded, innocent Guildford Four and Birmingham Six were exonerated he said "We wouldn't have all these campaigns to get them released if they'd been hanged. They'd have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied." Quite. A dead man can't protest his innocence any more.
posted by essexjan at 3:37 PM on November 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

I love that Texas Monthly exposes these stories but I wish there were fewer of them to expose. Stories like this are what convinced me that the death penalty has to go.
posted by immlass at 3:42 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

I had read the first half of this some time ago, I'm glad the second half was posted here or I never would have remembered to dig up the conclusion.

What I wonder when I read something like this is: How many people in Morton's position persist for all that time? How many more are there like him who gave up after five years or ten years?

How many trials come down to this, in the end?
“From that moment on, I didn’t like Michael Morton,” Landrum said. “I’m assuming the entire jury felt that way too. Whether he was a murderer or not was still to be determined, but I knew that I did not like him.”
posted by Western Infidels at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

There is a great interview with the author of the articles (Pamela Colloff) on the Longform Podcast.

She talks about how Texas Monthly has less local competition and can spend more time and detail on the stories because of that. It sounds like a really fascinating place to work.

She also confesses that she's trying to move away from writing justice stories like this. As can be expected, they take quite a bit out of the reporter.
posted by montag2k at 4:18 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

That was a devastating read. It shows really just how many lives have been shattered (and in one case, ended) solely due to the DA's desire to add another conviction to his record at any cost.

As others have said, that was an amazing piece of writing. Whatever is in the water at the Texas Monthly needs to be bottled and sent to newsrooms across the country.
posted by Tsuga at 4:22 PM on November 20, 2012

Texas Monthly has been amazing for a very long time. Back when I was in Journalism school (ha, ha, haaa!), we regularly read and dissected some of their more intriguing stories. This is why I get frustrated when the profession of journalism gets hand-waved away with "they're all biased" and other such bullshit. Journalism, done ethically and with care, is very important to a functioning democracy. In fact, I point to our ill-functioning democracy with the same finger I point to some of the theater made up to look like journalism that is passing for popular reportage in our country. It makes the whole thing look like a sham.
posted by amanda at 4:43 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]

The death penalty is good for nothing but (sometimes misguided even) vengeance. Deterrence? Nope. Justice? Nope. Even when dealt to the actual guilty person it's just vengeance, and I don't want any part of it. Not in my name.
posted by Daddy-O at 4:44 PM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

God, that was simply one of the more depressing things I've read in quite some time. Amazingly put together, but so very heart breaking.
posted by aclevername at 4:46 PM on November 20, 2012

"If you are found liable by a civil court of law for the wrongful persecution of any American citizen, you will be subject to serve the duration and extent of the wrongfully accused's punishment served; including death where applicable."

That is exactly right. That is exactly the solution. Not as payback but as penance.
posted by ook at 5:09 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ah, but what if you're wrongfully convicted of being liable for a wrongful prosecution? It's turtles all the way down.
posted by RobotHero at 5:21 PM on November 20, 2012

What is it I owe gilrain? A coke?
posted by RobotHero at 5:23 PM on November 20, 2012

what if you're wrongfully convicted of being liable for a wrongful prosecution?

Then whoever criminally wrongfully accused you owes penance. It's not an endless loop, it's not turtles all the way down, it's everyone being held to the same standard.
posted by ook at 5:33 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Fucking Texas.
posted by klangklangston at 5:37 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

"But Bradley said his decisions to restrict case files and postpone DNA analysis were made with honest intentions."

I wish to understand more about what he means by 'honest intentions'. Perhaps by carefully studying these monsters, we can be able to identify them and prevent them from being created.
posted by el io at 5:55 PM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

ook: True, true. The chain would presumably only continue until you can get a result that's not a travesty of justice. And hopefully a majority of cases aren't.

Some of this stuff astonishes me. There's a bandana w/ blood on it, and the prosecution claims it's far enough away it could just be a coincidence, but the content of a pornographic video he rented is relevant enough to show to the jury.
posted by RobotHero at 6:02 PM on November 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

And a similar thing has come up in rape threads, but jurors deciding guilt based on whether someone responded the way they imagine to be the "correct" way to respond needs to be squashed.
posted by RobotHero at 6:11 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Heartbreaking. Morton's capacity to forgive the people who wronged him (the police and prosecutors who railroaded him; the family and friends who turned on him) is truly inspiring. I'm not sure I could do the same.
posted by orrnyereg at 7:20 PM on November 20, 2012

I'm so glad you posted this. I read the first part a while back and didn't realize part two was out yet.

Anyone who liked this should definitely read this similar New Yorker story from a few years back, which also takes place in Texas. I feel like I've read so many stories like these (not all in Texas) that they aren't really shocking anymore. Though they will always be just incredibly heartbreaking.

Texas Monthly is a fantastic magazine. I've probably read dozens of crime stories they've written. A real standout was the one on the dogfighting ring. It was a great story, but as a dog lover I kind of wish I had never read it. Consider yourself warned.
posted by triggerfinger at 8:00 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Texas. Good God.
posted by flowerofhighrank at 12:58 AM on November 21, 2012

Made my way through the entire article last night. It wasn't the most soothing reading right before bedtime. This morning still thinking about it and I think The Innocence Project may go on my giving list this holiday season. There's an article from Nina Morrison on their website about her work on Michael's case.
posted by amanda at 7:40 AM on November 21, 2012

Wade Goodwyn's NPR story on the case from earlier this year is equally riveting. I caught it at the start of a long car ride and was just dumbstruck for the rest of the drive.
posted by cmaxmagee at 10:00 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the article:
By then Michael had received compensation for the time he served; in accordance with state law, which requires that exonerees be paid $80,000 for each year of wrongful imprisonment, he received just short of $2 million.
I'd love to know how the numbers add up on this. When you total costs of initial trial and conviction + costs of keeping the wrongfully convicted person imprisoned + costs of appeals + $80,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment, what does it come to?
posted by Lexica at 11:27 AM on November 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stellar post and a compelling read.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 7:08 AM on November 25, 2012

I was hoping to find info on the court of inquiry which is looking into Anderson's misconduct and whether he'll face criminal charges. Unsurprisingly, they've delayed the inquiry until February, 2013. I found a decent collection of news about this story from the Texas Tribune including that the actual killer will be facing trial for Christine Morton's murder in the March of 2013.
posted by amanda at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2012

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