remarkable and lengthy story today featuring Bradley eating humble pie over the Michael Morton DNA exoneration. The article opens with the line, "John Bradley is a man evolving." I hope and pray that's true, but this "evolution" is also conveniently timed as the DA approaches a tough primary challenge.
In the Trib story, Bradley describes his former vision of the prosecutor's role literally as that of a "predator": “I always felt like I was swimming among sharks,” he said. “And you had to defend yourself, and you have to be the same predator back.” I've never seen a prosecutor openly compare their role to a "predator," usually aiming such inflammatory language toward their adversaries (as Bradley more comfortably does in the first half of the quote). But it's a revealing statement, nonetheless.
If Bradley-the-prosecutor cared little about building relations with the local defense bar, the story tells us, he certainly knew which relations to develop to advance his political career:
As then DA Ken Anderson's first assistant, "Bradley developed a close relationship with his boss. They co-wrote two law books. Under Anderson, he began working with lawmakers at the Capitol, just a 30-minute drive south of Georgetown. When Gov. Rick Perry appointed Anderson as a state judge in 2002 he also appointed Bradley to take over as district attorney."So we've got a self-described "predator" who came to Williamson County from Houston with the mentality of a shark who treated the small pond full of perch and catfish in the defense bar essentially as prey while spending his spare time currying favor with officials in Williamson County and Austin. Largely thanks to those powerful patrons, particularly Judge Anderson and the Governor, until now Bradley has never faced a serious electoral challenge since Perry first appointed him. (He lost the only truly competitive race he's ever run, for the the Court of Criminal Appeals in the '90s.)
Like Ken Anderson's second chair Mike Davis, Bradley attempted to shift blame and focus for the Morton fiasco onto Judge Anderson, whose situation increasingly appears untenable. (I'm quite looking forward to reading his forthcoming deposition.) But Anderson's failings don't excuse Bradley's own decisions to fight disclosure of exculpatory evidence and DNA testing that eventually exonerated Mr. Morton. Grissom provides a detailed recital of Bradley's own role in this mess for which there's no one to blame but him:
In 2005, Morton began asking the state to test DNA evidence on a number of items, including a bloody blue bandana found near their home the day after the murder.
Bradley tenaciously fought the requests. In the press, he berated the idea that DNA would lead to some “mystery killer.” And he said Morton’s lawyers were “grasping at straws.” ...
Morton’s lawyers also asked Bradley, through public information requests, for investigative materials in the case. From the time of his conviction, Morton’s lawyers suspected that prosecutors had withheld key evidence that could have caused jurors to doubt his guilt. Bradley fought that request, too, arguing it would interfere with the DNA litigation.
Eventually, Bradley lost that fight and turned over the files. Reports from the sheriff’s department showed that in 1987 investigators had several clues that pointed to someone other than Morton as the killer. There was a transcript in which Morton’s mother-in-law told a sheriff’s deputy that the couple’s 3-year-old son saw a “monster” with a big mustache attack his mother — and the monster wasn’t his father. There were reports that Morton’s credit card had been used and a check had been cashed with her forged signature days after her death. Morton’s lawyers, though, had seen none of that information during his trial. ...
While the Willingham controversy continued in 2010, the Morton case was beginning to unravel. An appeals court ordered the prosecutor’s office to allow DNA testing on the bandana found near the murder scene. In June, the test results revealed that Christine Morton’s blood was mixed with the hair of a man who was not her husband. In August, a national DNA database search matched that DNA to a felon with a record in California....
But it wasn’t just the DNA.
The court in August also ordered the unsealing of a file that was supposed to contain all of the reports from the initial investigation of Morton’s murder. During a dispute in 1987 over evidence, the judge had ordered Anderson, the prosecutor, to provide him all of the investigator’s reports so that he could determine whether there was any information that could help Morton prove his innocence.
When that file was opened two decades later, Bradley and Morton’s lawyers found a paltry six pages of police reports.
Both Bradley and Morton’s lawyers knew that there were many more pages. Despite his order, the judge was not given the transcript that included the Mortons’ son’s description of the murder or the financial transactions that occurred after Morton’s death.
For the defense attorneys, it seemed to confirm their suspicions: the prosecutor’s office had withheld critical information so they could secure a conviction. For Bradley, the development was a shocking revelation that raised serious questions about his former boss and friend.
“I fully expected that that sealed file would contradict some pretty strong accusations,” Bradley said. “It didn’t.”
In September, Travis County investigators linked the DNA from the Morton bandana to DNA found on a hair at the scene of the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker. The man whose DNA was on those items during the 1980s lived only blocks away from Baker and about 12 miles away from the Morton’s home.Corroborating reports of a closed-door shouting match between the two, Grissom writes: "Because of the continuing investigation, Bradley won’t say whether he believes [Judge Ken] Anderson knowingly hid exculpatory evidence. But, for now, he said, their personal relationship is gone. 'It saddens me, but that’s the facts,' he said."
“It’s the kind of thing that happens only in Hollywood movies,” Bradley said. "I am still awed by the combination of circumstances that came together at the right time."
For Grits, the supposed transformation in Bradley's thinking brings to mind not a Hollywood story but a biblical one: The Apostle Paul's miraculous conversion from persecutor of Christians to their champion. Your correspondent was quoted at the end of Grissom's article making that allusion: "Scott Henson, who writes the well-regarded criminal justice blog Grits for Breakfast, said Bradley could demonstrate his changed perspective by joining with innocence advocates to promote reforms to the Texas justice system. 'He’s got a long record,' Henson said. 'And it will take more than a few words of humility to get everyone to believe that he’s had some road to Damascus moment.'"
Somewhat ironically, Bradley now says, "I consider Barry Scheck a good friend," so perhaps Barry can play Ananais to Bradley's St. Paul, causing the scales to fall from his eyes and leading him toward a path of righteousness. Any such optimism regarding Bradley's newly announced conversion, though, should for now remain measured. As Christ warned Saul on the road to Damascus, "it's hard for thee to kick against the pricks."
MORE: See the transcript from the Trib's Bradley interview.
AND MORE: From Wilco Watchdog. Also, from Jordan Smith at the Austin Chronicle, "Morton prosecutor wrote the book on crime." YET MORE: From Wilco Watchdog on John Bradley's "election transformation."