Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Free! But Damn! 25 Years!

The easy thing is to be happy for Michael Morton.
After 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit, he'll be released Tuesday or Wednesday.  The case against him will, almost certainly, be dismissed within a few months.  More, he should be declared innocent,
Michael Morton
So it's easy to be happy for Michael Morton.  And we should be.
At the same time, we should be, on his behalf and on our own, frustrated and angry.  After all, he spent 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife.  A crime he didn't commit.
If all goes as it should, the state of Texas will end up paying him a whole lot of money.  Millions.  It's not enough.  Not for 25 years.  Not for a lifetime.  Not for the opprobrium.  Not for the worry and the fear and the uncertainty.  Not for the hell he's lived.
And sure as shit not for the fact that it shouldn't have happened.
Christine Morton was murdered, bludgeoned to death in her bed, shortly after her husband, Michael, left for work that day in 1986.  Police and prosecutors ignored other leads, ignored evidence that seemed to indicate that Michael could not have been the killer.
Actually, they didn't just ignore that evidence.  They hid it.
They hid the fact that Christine's Visa card was found 2 days after the murder - and after Michael was in custody.  They hid the fact that a check made out to her and with her forged endorsement was cashed 9 days after the murder - and after Michael was in jail.   They hid the fact that Christine's 3 year old son described the attack on his mother, revealed specific details that were true, and said that Michael was not there.
Michael should never have been convicted.
But he was.  And he insisted he was innocent.  He sought DNA testing.  And for 6 years (six years) the county prosecutor (not the one who'd hidden the evidence and cheated to get a conviction, the current one, John Bradley, fought tooth and nail to prevent the testing.
Because by god it's . . .
Damned if I know.  And Bradley ain't talking.  Per Brandi Grissom in the Texas Tribune.
“As a lawyer, I had what I believe are good-faith reasons for raising concerns about that," he said.
Oh.  I feel better now.  I'm sure Morton does, too.
Of course, this is the same John Bradley who successfully torpedoed the investigation into the Willingham murder.  Hard to be surprised that he had no apparent interest in figuring out whether there was another oopsie.
Except, you know, now that the evidence is there.
See, what happened is that Bradley lost the fight to keep the DNA from being tested.  And when it was, well hot damn.  Not only wasn't it Morton's, it was actually the DNA of a guy they've successfully identified and also the DNA left at the scene of Debra Jan Baker's murder.  Like Christine Morton, she was bludgeoned to death in her bed.  Oh, and she was killed in 1988, two years after Christine's killing, after Michael was in prison.
Bradley was surprised.  Chuck Lindell at the Austin American-Statesman.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley said finding a DNA link between two similar murders, one committed while Morton was in prison, was "lightning-bolt type of information."
And so, and grudgingly we have to give Bradley a little credit here, Bradley and Morton's lawyers got together and drafted Stipulated Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law for Judge Sid Harle to sign (he did on Monday) and send on to the Court of Criminal Appeals.  
Morton Findings
As I said, it's easy to be happy for Michael Morton.
After 25 years he hasn't just been freed, he's been wholly exonerated. 
And yet.

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