Time magazine, columnist Mark Benjamin offers up an item wondering if Williamson County DA John Bradley's efforts fighting Morton's DNA testing and the release of exculpatory records, as well as his role in quashing the investigation into the Todd Willingham case, may reflect poorly on Govenror Perry, who has been Bradley's long-time political patron, noting that efforts to exonerate Mr. Morton:
probably would have sprung [him] from prison years ago were it not for the role of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, a well-connected ally of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who fought tenaciously for six years to keep Morton behind bars. Twice a Perry appointee to influential legal posts, Bradley has generated controversy in his handling of two high-profile cases: Morton’s incarceration and the forensic review of evidence against Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was executed in 2004 despite a cloud of uncertainty around the expert testimony that led to his conviction.Closer to home, the blog Wilco Watchdog looks at the investigation into prosecutorial misconduct in the Morton case, arguing that Bradley shouldn't be involved:
In early 2005, Morton’s attorneys sought DNA testing on a blood-stained bandana found outside the Morton home on the day after the brutal murder, which took place on Aug. 13, 1986. Court records show that Bradley, who was appointed by Perry in 2001 and was not Morton’s original prosecutor, sought to prevent that testing from ever taking place and tried to limit its effect on the case.
At first, Bradley argued that testing the bandana would open the floodgates to an indeterminable amount of new evidence. “One has to wonder whether petitioner would file another motion at some future date seeking additional testing of even more items,” he wrote in October of 2005. In a 2009 filing, Bradley argued that the bandana was irrelevant because it was found “a football field’s length” from the Morton’s house, and that if any DNA testing did take place “it should not incorporate the possibility of a match of any DNA profile recovered from the bandana to a known offender.
District attorneys vary widely in their willingness to consider new evidence, but Bradley’s efforts make him an outlier. The Innocence Project says it has to fight a prosecutor’s objections to DNA testing in less than half of its cases, and most resistance dries up quickly.
Morton was convicted by a Williamson County jury for murdering his wife and then sentenced to life in prison. But evidence that should have been revealed at trial by prosecutors Ken Anderson (now a district judge in Williamson County) and Mike Davis (a Round Rock lawyer who does work for Williamson County as outside counsel) which clearly exonerates Morton was suppressed. And other evidence, including a bloody bandana found near the murder scene which contained DNA showing that Morton didn't commit the murder, took years to be tested because Bradley fought hard not to release it and only did so when a Texas appeals court forced his hand.And now Bradley, who admits to a close friendship with Anderson, is trying to insert himself into the case. Bradley himself is responsible for sequestering important evidence which, if released many years ago, would have allowed Morton to leave prison then, not last week. It would have also allowed law enforcement agencies to look for the prime suspect, whose name is known from the DNA on the bandana and DNA from another murder committed in Austin a year after Morton went to prison. The same suspect who is still at large. Bradley’s actions not only cost tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars, but more importantly, it cost an innocent man his freedom for several additional years.Bradley maintains he was not a prosecutor on the original case in 1986 stating “the ink on my law degree was barely dry”. However, in 2008, Morton’s lawyers received a transcript between Christine Morton’s mother and Det. Sgt. Wood regarding a conversation between her and Morton’s son. This information was received after a Texas open records request was filed over the objections of Bradley who also fought the release of this information. Morton’s attorneys also found a summary of the telephone transcript in a district attorney case file marked "trial documents” leading many to believe Bradley was fully aware the evidence existed.Morton's lawyers argue that withholding the transcript violated the U.S. Constitution by trampling Morton's right to fair treatment by the legal system and his right to view prosecution evidence that could cast doubt on his guilt.His knowledge of the note about Christine Morton's credit card being used after the murder, the forged endorsement on the check cashed after the murder, and the transcript with the eyewitness account stating that Morton wasn't the killer, all of which were held in Bradley's files, raise the serious question as to why Bradley sought to keep such evidence under wraps. Because of Bradley's unexplained attempts to sequester this evidence, Bradley, of all people, should not be involved in any follow-up investigation of prosecutorial misconduct.Even in the absence of all of the evidence that Bradley sequestered, Bradley's friendship with Anderson alone is enough, in and of itself, to kick Bradley off the case involving prosecutorial misconduct.A special prosecutor should investigate all the front-line suspects involving the misconduct, including Anderson, Davis, Bradley, and Detective Don Wood.
Strong words, but IMO completely justified, and I'm glad Bradley's hometown media is calling him out on the topic instead of circling the wagons to defend the local good ol' boy network. Competing perhaps only with the Anthony Graves debacle and a handful of others, this was among the most disgraceful displays of Texas prosecutors playing hide the ball in a serious case - over a 25 year stretch, no less - that I'm personally aware of, and Grits pays more attention to these topics than most.Mr. Bradley should feel ashamed. His efforts to stymie DNA testing, along with his refusal to hand over exculpatory documents to defense attorneys, may have had consequences far beyond the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton.
An unnamed man's DNA is now connected to two remarkably similar murder scenes within miles of each other: Ms. Morton's in 1986 and Debra Baker's in 1988.
That mystery man, a violent criminal who may still be at large, may have had many more chances to kill again as Mr. Morton languished in jail. That is a terrifying thought.
Still, Mr. Bradley seems more interested in protecting his reputation than in bringing the real killer to justice.
Congrats to Mr. Morton, his family and all the attorneys and advocates who worked on this case for years. Morton's exoneration is a tremendous, if belated blow struck in the name of justice, particularly because those in Williamson County charged with seeking justice were the ones most actively standing in the way of achieving it.
Now it's time for the State Bar to get busy and actually ensure that there are personal and professional consequences for those men, both because they deserve to face consequences for their actions and to set an example for other prosecutors around the state engaging in similar behavior.