Friday, November 22, 2013
Michael Morton a Generous Giant | Last Word
Michael Morton spent 25 years in state prison for murdering his wife before DNA evidence proved him innocent.
Ken Anderson, the district attorney who got Morton convicted, spent less than five days in jail last week after a judge ruled that he hid evidence of Morton’s innocence from Morton, his attorneys and the trial judge.
There is no neat scale for measuring the price paid by Anderson for his actions against the price paid by Morton for them.
Morton’s 25 years versus Anderson’s five days doesn’t do justice to the disparities.
Anderson lost more than five days of freedom.
He had to resign from the judgeship he had assumed after his tenure as a highly regarded district attorney.
He has been disbarred, meaning he can never run again for judge, nor even practice the only profession he has.
Perhaps most painfully, he has lost the respect of his professional colleagues and the people of Williamson County where he was long regarded as a leading citizen.
His punishment is substantially greater than the five-day sentence.
But few would suggest that it comes anywhere close to the injuries that he inflicted on Morton.
Morton was caged for a quarter of a century after losing his wife to a murderer.
Then he lost his son, who came to believe that Morton killed his mother when he was just a toddler.
So Anderson lost his profession near its end.
Morton lost his family near its beginning.
If it’s difficult to measure the punishments, it is not difficult to measure the men.
Michael Morton said from the time of his exoneration that he wanted accountability, not revenge.
He refused to blame the judge who assessed the 5-day sentence on Anderson.
He didn’t say he would have preferred a longer sentence, but blamed it on the state of the law.
Happily, he and supporters worked hard last spring to get the Legislature to change the law so that prosecutors who hide evidence could face stiffer penalties.
Rather than lament the five-day sentence, he celebrated the fact that it appears to be the first time a Texas prosecutor went to jail for hiding evidence.
Speaking recently to a meeting of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, he praised them for their work.
He said he was glad many of the men he had spent 25 years in prison with were not out on the street.
And on a panel in Houston last week after the showing of a documentary on his case, he gave a reasoned and compassionate response to an audience member who expressed outrage that Anderson did not have his pension taken away.
Anderson’s wife also depended on the pension, Morton noted. And she did nothing wrong.
Let’s compare Morton’s calm wisdom with the actions of Anderson.
He sat silent for six years as his hand-picked successor, former District Attorney John Bradley, fought in court the DNA testing of a bandana that eventually proved Morton’s innocence.
When that innocence was proven, Anderson accepted no responsibility.
He tearfully told Morton in court that he had racked his brain trying to think of what he could have done differently and found nothing.
The system, he said, had failed, but not himself.
And he was silent when his own defense attorney noted, as though it made a difference, that Anderson had not been found guilty of a crime.
He was given the five days for contempt of court, for lying to the trial judge so many years ago when the judge asked if he had any evidence favorable to Morton.
Measuring the men is easy.
One left prison a generous giant. The other left the bench a moral midget.