Austin, Texas

DNA could overturn 21-yr wrongful conviction

Posted: Aug 6, 2008

AUSTIN, Texas (KXAN) -- DNA testing for a man convicted of killing his wife in 1987 could prove his innocence, lifting the life sentence he serves.

Michael Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife, Christine, in August 1986 in Georgetown. His attorneys are teaming up with the family of a murdered woman, whose case remains unsolved, to file a federal lawsuit seeking DNA testing.

In a strikingly similar crime, Mildred McKinney was murdered less than a mile from the Morton home in November 1980.  Both victims were bludgeoned to death after bloody assaults in their bedrooms. Neither crime scene showed any signs of forced entry, yet both cases contained unidentified fingerprints that were found on unlocked, sliding glass doors to the home. Both victims were also found with several household furniture and items stacked on top of their bodies.

Morton was joined by McKinney's daughter in Austin Tuesday afternoon to file the lawsuit in federal court against the Williamson County Sheriff's Department and Williamson County District Attorney. They requested DNA testing and fingerprint analysis in both cases, arguing that the tests could identify one man who committed both crimes.

Papers filed in federal court indicate McKinney's daughter, Patricia Stapleton, argued she is entitled to DNA testing in her mother's case under federal and state law, including the Texas Crime Victims' Bill of Rights.

The Innocence Project said the prosecutor has resisted DNA testing for years and could very well solve both crimes, and Innocence Project staff attorney Nina Morrison said the access to the DNA evidence District Attorney John Bradley denies is imperative to the case.

"It's really frustrating," said Morrison. "It's baffling to me. There's no reason why we would not go to court."

Though Morrison said the DNA evidence could conclusively solve two murder cases, Bradley has a different stance.

"It's rather silly to turn over physical evidence on an unsolved murder to a person who has no business conducting an investigation," said Bradley. "If there is evidence, you can bet law enforcement is fully pursuing those things, and we'll get them accomplished."

Bradley said the investigation into the McKinney murder is ongoing and not closed, and they are working on good leads but do not discuss the details.

"We've spent many hours over 3 1/2 years to get the DNA evidence released," said Morrison.

Even though the state would not pay a dime if it took up Morrison's offer to bear the full costs of the DNA testing, anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 for this case, the district attorney's office does not have to turn over the DNA evidence to a private testing lab.

"The DPS crime lab is perfectly capable and well-certified to handle things," said Bradley.

If the DNA evidence were released, it would take approximately two to six months for the results to arrive thereafter.

Morrison said the DNA on a bloody bandana found near the Morton home could provide overwhelming evidence regarding the case, and it could be cross-referenced with criminals in the convicted-offender databank, potentially yielding a "hit" to someone who has committed similar crimes.

In addition, fingerprints from key areas of the crime scene that did not come from any member of the Morton family can be entered into state and national fingerprint databases, something that was unavailable at the time of Morton's 1987 trial.

The case is believed to be the first in the nation in which a crime victim or a victim's relative has joined a prisoner in a lawsuit seeking DNA testing.

Innocent Imprisoned
Truth in Justice