April 19, 2013
Judge finds that Anderson hid evidence in Morton murder trial
By Chuck Lindell
Georgetown — 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.
Bail was set at $2,500 each for the three findings, said Rusty Hardin, who acted in the role of prosecutor in the court of inquiry. After being booked and photographed, Anderson walked out of the Williamson County Jail shortly before 5:30 p.m.
Sturns’ ruling is the first step in a potential criminal case against Anderson, who was Williamson County’s celebrated law-and-order district attorney for 16 years before he became a district judge in 2002. His current term as judge will end in 2014. State law does not require him to step down as the case against him progresses.
Anderson’s lawyer, Eric Nichols, told Sturns that he will file an appeal challenging the ruling, saying he believes the court of inquiry exceeded its authority, that the accusations against Anderson lacked merit and that Sturns mistakenly ruled that the statute of limitations did not apply to events that took place more than two decades ago.
The next step in the case is likely to be a hearing on Anderson’s challenge.
Morton was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his first wife, Christine, in their Williamson County home. He was freed and declared innocent in 2011 after DNA tests pointed to another man as the killer. Sitting next to his new wife, Cynthia, Morton teared up as Sturns read his findings from the bench.
“It was surprisingly emotional. It was a real sense of vindication, an agreement from the state” that Anderson engaged in misconduct, Morton said. “I used to be a ward of the state. They owned me. So this is a special way of saying, ‘You were right, and we were wrong.’ ”
Anderson, sitting at the defense table with his back to the audience, showed no visible reaction to Sturns’ ruling. He quickly walked out a back door, his gaze on the floor, and was followed by his lawyers.
Before issuing his findings, Sturns apologized to Morton on behalf of the state’s judiciary.
“You had a very difficult ordeal, and you’ve shown a spirit of forgiveness that I find very, very remarkable,” Sturns said. “Obviously, you were the victim of a miscarriage.”
Sturns told the standing-room-only courtroom that the evidence showed that Anderson improperly concealed two pieces of evidence that could have helped Morton fight the murder charge:
“Judge Lott specifically asked Mr. Anderson in open court whether the state had any evidence that was favorable to the accused,” Sturns said. “To which Anderson replied, ‘No, sir.’ ”
Anderson also disobeyed a court order to turn over the lead investigator’s notes and reports for Lott’s review, Sturns said. Instead, Anderson submitted a five-page report detailing the first day of investigation into the beating death of Christine Morton.
Anderson’s lawyers argued, during five days of court of inquiry hearings in early February, that Lott — who has since died — issued a limited order to view exactly what Anderson turned over.
Sturns dismissed that line of reasoning, issuing arrest warrants for tampering with physical evidence, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison; for concealing documents to impair their availability as evidence; and for tampering with a government record, a misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail, for concealing official reports.
Sturns also issued a show cause order for Anderson to appear in court to answer the contempt charge, punishable by a $500 fine and up to six months in jail.
Williamson County District Attorney Jana Duty said Friday that she will ask the state attorney general’s office to act as prosecutor as the criminal case against Anderson develops.
Duty said she was concerned about a conflict of interest because three of her prosecutors are assigned to Anderson’s court, which presides over one-third of the criminal cases filed in the county.
According to the Texas Supreme Court’s rules on the removal of judges, Anderson will be able to continue in office. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct can suspend a judge only after a felony indictment from a grand jury or if there is a misdemeanor charge involving official misconduct, the rules say.
||Truth in Justice