Sunday, December 29, 2013

Texas ex-prosecutor's sentence sends warning on wrongful convictions

Punishment meted out to a former Texas district attorney in a wrongful conviction sends a stern warning to other prosecutors, analysts say.

HOUSTON — Williamson County Dist. Atty. Ken Anderson had risen to a district judge by the time a special investigation was launched this year to scrutinize a murder he had prosecuted in 1987.

In a rare finding, a judge determined that Anderson had intentionally withheld evidence, resulting in the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton. Morton served 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before DNA tests exonerated him and another man was convicted of the crime.

Anderson agreed to serve nine days in jail, resign from the bench and surrender his law license.

The dramatic, high-profile proceeding has raised the possibility of more prosecutorial misconduct investigations in Texas, a state known for tough justice and frequent executions.

Anderson was penalized after a court of inquiry, a unique Texas proceeding that allows a judge to determine whether prosecutors broke the law and, if so, to charge them.

Although it has been on the books in Texas since 1965, the court of inquiry was typically used to hold elected officials accountable. But the Morton case may change that.

"I am guardedly optimistic that we'll see more courts of inquiry," said Jeff Blackburn, founder of the Innocence Project of Texas, which helped free Morton.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat who attended Anderson's court of inquiry, said the proceeding "sends out a message to prosecutors around the country that if you don't play by the rules, you will be held accountable."

Texas legislators passed a law this year extending the deadline for filing misconduct grievances from four years after the offense to four years after a wrongfully convicted prisoner is released.

Lawyers can also petition judges to convene courts of inquiry, as they did in Morton's case.

The State Bar of Texas is considering half a dozen other complaints filed against prosecutors this year, according to lawyers.


Source: LA Times, December 29, 2013