In what may be the first time in the nation’s history, a prosecutor who deliberately withheld evidence and sent an innocent man to prison is going to spend time in jail. How much time? Ten days. After sending an innocent man to prison for 25 years for a crime the prosecutor knew he didn’t commit.
Today in Texas, former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to intentionally failing to disclose evidence in a case that sent an innocent man, Michael Morton, to prison for the murder of his wife. When trying the case as a prosecutor, Anderson possessed evidence that may have cleared Morton, including statements from the crime’s only eyewitness that Morton wasn’t the culprit. Anderson sat on this evidence, and then watched Morton get convicted. While Morton remained in prison for the next 25 years, Anderson’s career flourished, and he eventually became a judge.
In today’s deal, Anderson pled to criminal contempt, and will have to give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and spend 10 days in jail. Anderson had already resigned in September from his position on the Texas bench.
What makes today’s plea newsworthy is not that Anderson engaged in misconduct that sent an innocent man to prison. Indeed, while most prosecutors and police officers are ethical and take their constitutional obligations seriously, government misconduct–including disclosure breaches known as Brady violations–occurs so frequently that it has become one of the chief causes of wrongful conviction.
What’s newsworthy and novel about today’s plea is that a prosecutor was actually punishedin a meaningful way for his transgressions.
Prosecutors are always telling us that criminals must be punished harshly in order to deter them, so here’s an idea: Anderson should go to prison for the exact same amount of time Morton spent there, 25 years. He is a criminal. He destroyed another man’s life. And the punishment here should serve as a stark warning to other prosecutors and make them think twice next time they are tempted to withhold evidence. What do you suppose the chances of such deterrence now?