For my money, the most riveting legal story of 2012 was this Texas Monthly story, “The Innocent Man.” David Brooks would go further. He named it one of his best magazine essays of the year:
On Aug. 13, 1986, Michael Morton returned from work to discover his wife murdered in their bed. He had no motive and no history of violence. He passed two lie detector tests. The couple’s 3-year-old son witnessed the murder and gave a relative a detailed description, explicitly saying that his father was not involved.
Yet prosecutors decided Morton was the killer. He was convicted, and he spent nearly the next quarter-century in prison. If you start reading “The Innocent Man,” a two-part series on this case that Pamela Colloff wrote for The Texas Monthly, you will be propelled along by indignation at the arrogance and stupidity of the entire law enforcement system. You’ll be thankful again for the Innocence Project, which uses DNA evidence to clear the wrongfully convicted.
The magnitude of the prosecutorial errors and their consequences (read the Texas Monthly piece from beginning to end) has sparked an unprecedented response in Texas. A bill passed unanimously last month by the Texas Senate would extend the statute of limitations for offenses involving the suppression of evidence by prosecutors from four years after the occurrence of the offenses to four years after a wrongfully convicted defendant is released from prison. It also would require the State Bar of Texas to issue a public reprimand for prosecutors who suppress evidence that they should have given to defense attorneys. The bill passed the Senate unanimously. Other measures to increase prosecutorial accountability are also under consideration.
But an even more dramatic sign that Texas is taking prosecutorial accountability seriously occurred on Friday, when a special prosecutor at a rare court of inquiry found that the prosecutor in the Morton case, Ken Anderson, was likely guilty of criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence, and tampering with government records -- and ordered his arrest. Anderson, now a sitting circuit judge who has been suspended pending the outcome of the charges, surrendered at his own courthouse. Anderson also faces ethics charges from the State Bar of Texas.
Update: access the probable cause order for Judge Anderson here.