Crooked Prosecutor Gets Prosecuted

Crooked Prosecutor Gets Prosecuted April 24, 2013

Here’s an exceedingly rare event, a corrupt prosecutor (now a judge) is actually being prosecuted for concealing evidence of a defendant’s innocence. And it’s happening in Texas, of all places, where a fellow judge blasted the former prosecutor while ordering his arrest:

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson was arrested and booked into jail and then released on bail Friday after a specially convened court found that he intentionally hid evidence to secure Michael Morton’s 1987 conviction for murder.

In a blunt and scathing ruling, District Judge Louis Sturns said Anderson acted to defraud the trial court and Morton’s defense lawyers, resulting in an innocent man serving almost 25 years in prison.

“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,” Sturns said.

Sturns, presiding over a court of inquiry that examined the Morton prosecution, found probable cause to believe that Anderson broke two state laws and committed criminal contempt of court for lying to Morton’s trial judge. He then signed a warrant for Anderson’s arrest as required under state law governing courts of inquiry.

Morton was freed in 2011 when DNA evidence showed that he didn’t kill his wife, after nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Unfortunately, Anderson cannot be sued for framing him because the Supreme Court gives prosecutors absolute immunity from civil suit. The only other option is what is happening here, which is incredibly rare.

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  • congenital cynic

    How sad for the man convicted. To have your wife murdered by someone else, and then to do jail time for it. A ruined life.

    The prosecutor should rot in jail.

  • Synfandel

    And if Mr. Morton had been executed back in 1986, no one would ever have bothered with the DNA testing (if it were even possible) and his innocence would never have come to light. It makes one wonder how many convicts’ innocence has been effectively covered up by their execution.

  • Ben P

    I really struggle a little bit to understand the state of mind that leads to this sort of thing.

    I recently moved from private practice to being an attorney for the state. I’m not exactly a prosecutor, but some of my cases are analogous. I’m a pretty competitive guy, but I also try to be extremely conscientious about disclosing everything possible to the public defenders and private opposing counsel. I have an open file policy even though our office doesn’t require it. I’m also the first one to see weaknesses in my own cases and am often the one telling case workers or police that we probably shouldn’t pursue one. God forbid a day when being competitive leads me to believe I should hide something rather than admitting I have a weak case.

  • Hooray for the Texas system of “justice” for having, like the proverbial blind pig, stumbled across a rotten acorn. The real test will be if this guy is tried before a Texas jury and they actually convict him for what he did instead of patting him on the back for being “zealous” in the pursuit of the “bad guys.”

  • badgersdaughter

    Ben P… I may never talk to you (at least I hope I don’t professionally, lol), but thank you so much for saying what you just said. Please know that there are people out here who are gratefully watching your good example and hope it spreads.

  • lawngnome

    Situations like this are one of the reasons of why I’m against the death penalty.

  • Doug Little

    Anderson cannot be sued for framing him because the Supreme Court gives prosecutors absolute immunity from civil suit.

    Any chance that this could change? It seems to me if the prosecutor is found guilty of willfully withholding mitigating evidence from the defense there should be some avenue for reparations for the wrongly convicted. What is their reasoning giving them absolutely no responsibility for their actions?

  • baal

    @#2 For this example and other similar cases (cf the innocence project) I’m against the death penalty. I don’t really have a moral objection per se but when you look at all the people who didn’t commit the crimes being and the racial disparity of death penalty cases, it’s clear the State has no business using the death penalty for anyone.

  • gshelley

    Ben P

    I would suggest reding Mistakes were made (but not by me) by Carol Tavris. Is is basically about Cognitive Dissonace and coves quite a few examples of prosecutors or police deciding a person was guilty and framing them, or hiding evidence that shows they aren’t

    To me at least, it is a fairly convincing explanation of why it happens

  • Accepting the premise that the prosecutor can’t be sued by Mr. Morton, what about all of the other players? Unless the prosecutor worked alone there must have been others, certainly investigators who were aware of the exculpatory evidence. Why can’t THEY be sued?

  • abb3w

    Possible factor in the breakdown of the usual “old boy’s” network of judiciary protection: the accused Judge Ken Anderson is white, Michael Morton and Judge Louis Sturns are both black.

  • psweet

    Doug Little — there is the possibility of suing the state of Texas (although apparently there are ways for a state to arrange things so that it doesn’t happen). Prosecutorial immunity prevents lawsuits against the prosecutor as an individual. (It still doesn’t make sense to me, when you break the laws, you should be personally liable, but that’s not what the Supreme Court says.)

  • Didaktylos

    I would hope something like this happens: if he pleads guilty as charged, he gets life without parole, with the best possible segregation. If he doesn’t plead guilty he gets one weekend in General Population.

  • blorf

    I don’t know about throwing him into General Population, but it does indeed sound fair that any prosecutor convicted of falsifying a case should receive exactly the same sentence the original defendant did.

  • D. C. Sessions

    I don’t suppose the Bible belt is likely to apply the Biblical rule for “bearing false witness:” the party deceiving the Court is subject to the penalty at stake. In this instance, life in prison.

  • naturalcynic

    Large awards [in the million$] have been awarded to those who have been freed from wrongful guilty judgements. The jurisdiction, as the employer with deep pockets pays. A good reason to have proper supervision over DA’s.