A judge issued an arrest warrant for former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson Friday, after finding probable cause to believe Anderson withheld critical evidence in Michael Morton’s 1987 murder trial.
Judge Louis Sturns concluded his court of inquiry by charging Anderson, who is now a state district judge, with tampering with government records (a misdemeanor), tampering with physical evidence (a felony) and failing to comply with a judge’s order to turn over such evidence, for which he could be held in “contempt of court.”
The rare court of inquiry, in which arguments were made in February, was held to determine whether Anderson, a former district attorney, committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to Morton’s wrongful murder conviction. Morton, who was in attendance for Friday’s decision, spent nearly 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder before he was exonerated.
Sturns said that Anderson purposefully concealed evidence from Morton’s defense attorneys, hiding reports that neighbors had seen a green van outside of the Mortons’ home and a phone transcript in which Morton’s son was said to have told his grandmother a “monster” murdered Morton’s wife.
Rusty Hardin, the special prosecutor in the court of inquiry, told reporters that Anderson would turn himself in at the Williamson County Jail on Friday afternoon, and that he would have to pay a $2,500 bond for each of three separate counts.
As for what happens next, Hardin admitted that nobody involved is sure. “We’re all kind of operating on a clean slate here,” he said, adding that Anderson would be “treated like anybody else.”
See here and here for some background. I wasn’t terribly sympathetic to Anderson after reading his testimony, so I’m not particularly sorry for him now. But as Michael Morton himself reminds us, this is not about punishment but transparency and accountability. Whatever happens next, it’s good that Ken Anderson is being held accountable for his actions. A statement from Sen. Rodney Ellis, who has authored and advocated for more legislation that would help promote that kind of transparency and accountability, is beneath the fold.
UPDATE: Grits has a copy of Judge Sturns’ order.
“To anyone interested in justice, Judge Sturns’ decision was a tough one, but the right one. This case was one of the most extraordinary incidents of prosecutorial misconduct in the last thirty years, so justice demanded an extraordinary response.
“The decision is a huge step toward justice for Michael Morton. There is no way to make up for the 25 years he wrongly spent in prison, but the system working correctly is a positive development. Hopefully, this will serve as a reminder that all parties must uphold the law for our system to work, for innocent Texans to be protected and for justice to be done.
“The state of Texas owes a debt of gratitude to Michael Morton — and the men like him — that cannot be under-stated. Throughout this ordeal, he has reminded us the flaws in our system and the consequences of injustice. His faith, grace, courage and strength are reminders that humanity can shine through even the darkest and most inhumane treatment, and that hope and belief in the truth can move mountains and save lives.
“Today is a step towards justice, but more remains to be done. We must pass SB 1611, the Michael Morton Act, and ensure all relevant evidence and all relevant facts come to light to safeguard the innocent, convict the guilty, and provide justice the people of Texas can have faith in.
“Passage of the Michael Morton Act will increase transparency and accountability in criminal cases at a stage when we can still prevent wrongful convictions like Mr. Morton’s. I want to thank Mr. Morton for continuing his quest for justice with courage, compassion and conviction. Without his character, heart and leadership, we would not have seen the system work today, and we would not be as far down the path toward reform as we are.”