Wednesday, August 24, 2011

'Innocence trumps' when prosecutors can't destroy evidence

To the surprise of no one, given how Williamson County pols seem to look out for their own, Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield refused to order recusal of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley's office from an apparent wrongful conviction where the DA's office fought DNA testing for years and allegedly withheld an exculpatory witness statement made by the victim's child. Reported the Texas Tribune:
District court judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, who has been on the bench since 1993, said he was not prepared to take “the extraordinary act” of recusing Bradley. He said he had a “high degree of confidence” in the two assistant district attorneys in Bradley’s office handling the appeal and that he would “take this case as seriously as any case that has come before me in 19 years on this court.” [Michael] Morton's lawyers, who include attorneys with the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit, had demanded that Bradley be removed from the case. ...

Earlier this month, after the Texas Department of Public Safety ran new DNA results through the national convicted-offender DNA database, prosecutors and defense attorneys were informed that the results matched a man whose blood had been collected at some point by law enforcement authorities in California. Last week, California authorities confirmed the match. ...

At the center of Morton's appeal are the June DNA results obtained from a bloody bandana that had been found at a construction site near the couple’s home shortly after the murder. For six years, Bradley fought advanced DNA testing of the bandana and other evidence, saying Morton's attorneys were searching for a “mystery man” and “grasping at straws.” The 3rd Court of Appeals ultimately ruled in Morton's favor and ordered the testing last year. The results revealed that commingled with Christine Morton’s hair, sweat and blood on the bandana was the DNA of a man who was not Michael Morton.

Raley said his own “informal” investigations of the new suspect, who is still at large, revealed he had a history of drug abuse and assault.

In addition to the DNA evidence, Raley said Bradley fought to keep under wraps a sheriff's department interview with Morton's mother-in-law conducted days after the 1986 murder in which she said the couple's young son had witnessed the crime. She said her grandson, 3 years old at the time, told her that a man who was "not Daddy" killed his mother. Raley also questioned whether the trial judge at the time had ever seen the document.
The real murderer might have been identified six years ago if Mr. Bradley hadn't fought DNA testing tooth and nail. Indeed, as regular Grits readers know, Bradley would likely have preferred DNA evidence had been destroyed outright to avoid exactly this outcome. In a now redacted string on the prosecutors' user forum (which Grits saved and uploaded here), Bradley advocated seeking DNA destruction as part of plea agreements on the grounds that "Innocence ... has proven to trump most anything." "A better approach," he said, "might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest." That stance was one of the reasons Texas senators criticized the Williamson DA before rejecting his confirmation this spring as chair of the Forensic Science Commission.

If the defense in this case was "grasping at straws," as Mr. Bradley derisively told the media all these years, they sure latched onto a strong one. I have a hard time imagining the courts will uphold Mr. Morton's conviction in the face of a conclusive DNA match to someone else.

On one point, Bradley was right: "Innocence has proven to trump most anything." But his conclusion from that observation was downright perverse. That means innocence claims, where they credibly exist, should be vigorously and rapidly pursued, not that evidence should be destroyed in order to reduce appellate opportunities and to make sure that actual innocence can never be established. The Michael Mortons of the world deserve better. Indeed, all of us do.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

I posted this on the last thread on this topic but it was kind of late in the thread so here it is again:

I have an idea. Maybe some attorney in Texas will consider this:

Once this guy is legally exonerated he should sue Bradley for denial of due process. What about absolute prosecutorial immunity you ask? A prosecutor only has absolute immunity for actions that are part of the prosecutorial function. I would argue that, since, by statute, the DA's responsibility is to do justice, not convict, that blocking and stalling DNA testing is not part of the prosecutorial function. It is acutally an obstruction of justice and therefore conflicts with and cannot be part of the prosecutorcial function.

I know its a long shot but I think it would be worth a try. If you could win that argument then other DAs would be much more reluctant to block DNA testing.

Just an idea.

I'll add this thought: Prosecutors are supposed to uphold the law. But, one law they seem to frequently ignore is the one that says their responsibility is to do justice. In blocking DNA testing, particularly in this case, prosecutors like Bradley are obstructing justice.

Anonymous said...

This was a hinky motion, and I'm not surprised it was denied. Recusal generally applies to the decision maker (the judge) not the advocate for one side or the other. And particularly not when the basis for the motion is that the advocate might be an effective advocate. You might as well make a motion that the Innocence Project should be recused from participating because they are effective advocates for the plaintiff/defendant (they are sometimes wrong, btw). This was political posturing by the Innocence Project, which is a perfectly fine thing. But it ought not to be taken seriously when it was clearly not intended as a serious thing.

Anonymous said...

I am tired of people who defend a$$e$ like John Bradley.

Bradley may not have prosecuted the case, but the fact is he has denied DNA testing for 6 years. And, there is other evidence pointing to a third party that has been kept secret all these years. Bradley's old boss, Ken Anderson, prosecuted the case. Anderson is now a district judge in the same county. The asst prosecutor on the case is Mike Davis. He has been practicing law in the same county since shortly after the Morton case. Davis is the same guy who represented former judge Higginbotham in the sexual harrassment suit filed by two county employees. With Dan Gattis, county judge, go ahead, Mike Davis then billed the county for this personal representation. Davis then billed the county under a false case number. Bradley refused to prosecuted and went as far as to mislead the public about investigating the case.

But no worries, Davis agreed to pay the county back by providing legal services, such as court appointed cases. Imagine your picked up in WilCo, charged for a crime you did not commit, you are indigent, and you get Davis for your court appointed lawyer...can we say screwed.

Check out the Higginbotham Davis fiasco on Austin Bulldog at theaustinbulldog.org Documents and all

There is quite a bit at stake for the WilCo Mob.

Anonymous said...

The only thing that will stop this type of corruption is prison time. They need a good strong dose of their own justice. When legal experts knowingly withhold evidence from the defense they should do the same amount of time in prison as the falsely convicted person times two. They should also be disbarred for life for such actions. How could any moral person falsely imprison another human being just for the win. The answer is a moral person would not do such a thing! In today's world most of our politicians are self serving, immoral dirt bags.


FTM

M. Edwards said...

Post-Conviction work in TX is so difficult and expensive.

Jim Jackson said...

Bradley has once again jeopardized public safety by his sideways thinking. I wonder how many other people this monster has killed since 1986, how many since 2005? It is quite possible Anderson, Davis & Bradley have blood on their hands.

It isn't just Williamson County people that this should piss off. The prosecution, conviction and obstruction of justice in the case of Michael Morton was done in the name of the people of Texas.

Anonymous said...

The link to the Austin Bulldog does not work. Has anyone a correct link?

EastTexan said...

http://www.theaustinbulldog.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=180&Itemid=22

DEWEY said...

@ anon 11:28- "the DA's responsibility is to do justice, not convict,..."
It is obvious that you don't understand "Texas justice" (Sarcasm)

Anonymous said...

wilcowatchdog.org is also following this with detailed coverage and a complete breadown.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I see this type of perverse game playing taking place in lots of other jurisdictions besides Williamson County. Obstruction of justice in the name of winning at all costs has no place in any civilized society. Unless and until the feds and/or the courts hold the likes of John Bradley accountable, it will continue.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Comments related to this Post regarding "Obstructing Justice" have hit the nail on the head.

When police, prosecutors & judges advocate for and/or seek the destruction of the very evidence collected & used to obtain an arrest and subsequent conviction it should be considered and treated as being equal to conspiring to commit an act of "Obstructing Justice".

Sadly, this act is performed every single day at the TBP&P 'Clemency Section' when they require applicants seeking consideration for a Full Pardon - for innocence to obtain a Letter of Recommendation from the original trial (Judge, D.A. & Sheriff).

With absolutely no incentives to do so, they avoid admitting their roles by denying or ignoring the applicants request.

*The ol fox guarding the hen house syndrome. Voters & Taxpayers are the cure. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

East Texas and anon. I tried cutting and pasting both those links, and they don't work. Have you tried them lately? What am I doing wrongly?

Jim Jackson said...

google "the austin bulldog" after going to the website look under "documents" then scroll down and look at "Don Higginbotham Investigation" (14 files); Be sure to also see, "Complaint Against Jana Duty" (6 files), and "Judge Dan A. Gattis Lawsuit" (17 files)

Audrey said...

Until they are held accountable and given severe consequences they will continue to convict innocent people. The joke among Dallas prosecutors, according to The Dallas Observer, is it takes more work to convict an innocent person but it can be done.

The evidence needed to clear my own name was withheld and labeled "irrelevent" or "privileged". And they got away with it.....so far.

Anonymous said...

I discovered this site via an article in the Statesman. Bravo gritsforbreakfast for calling out the Wilco judical system! The comments here were exactly the same as my rant while reading the article. How can anyone in Bradley's role get away with such blatant disregard for justice? Rhetorical question, I know. I have long awaited the day when Williamson county police and judicial systems will *finally* come under the scrutiny and penalty they deserve. I also long for world peace. I hope that Bradley being rejected as Chair of the Forensic Science Commission is a step in the right direction. Talk about fox in the hen house!

Phillip Baker said...

As noted above, Williamson County is certainly not the only corrupt county. A DA (now a judge, of course) acted in concert with the local sheriff to coerce a man into a draconian plea bargain- by refusing him medical care to save his life! Can't prove it, of course, but the jail's Chief Deputy around early-mid November ordered NO further medical care for the guy with a deadly disorder(too many hospital runs, too much money), the man's lawyer wrote the jail in later Nov to warn against this refusal, and then- despite months of refusal by the accused- the DA got his plea within the next couple of weeks. The guy was terrified he'd die at age 20 in that jail. All of these dirt bags are immune from accountability.

Chris Halkides said...

The system needs positive (not negative) incentives built into it somehow to reward the CJ system for righting wrongful convictions. How to do it is above my pay grade.

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Grandmom said...

President Richard Nixon was impeached for obstruction of justice. What about John Bradley?