Though both men have endured unspeakable nightmares, in Mr. Thompson's case the courts added insult to injury. Louisiana doesn't have a compensation law for exonerees like we passed in Texas. So after he was framed by the New Orleans DA's office, spent 18 years in prison (14 on death row), then was exonerated thanks to DNA and exculpatory evidence concealed at his first trial, Mr. Thompson filed a federal civil rights suit, winning a $14 million verdict which was affirmed by the Fifth Circuit, only to have it overturned by the US Supreme Court in Connick v. Thompson last year. (See Prof. Jennifer Laurin's description for more detail.) That compensation law is one thing Texas does right compared to other states.
The event was informative, but I also agree with local attorney Don Dickson who sat next to me and wrote on Facebook that "The presentation itself was kinda discouraging. It's very clear that the difficulty of addressing prosecutorial misconduct is surpassed only by the difficulty in discovering it in the first place." That's particularly true of so-called Brady violations, or failures to disclose exculpatory evidence, where the defense and judges cannot as a practical matter know what prosecutors have hidden from them. Of course, I do think there are things that can be done legislatively to retard if not eliminate prosecutorial misconduct, but in the wake of Connick v. Thompson, the existing landscape on oversight of prosecutors is pretty bleak.
I'll write up my own notes from the event over the weekend, but here's some of the initial MSM coverage from yesterday's forum, most of which so far has focused on Michael Morton's case as opposed to the broader issues, as well as a two-part interview with Michael Morton in the Austin Statesman:
- KXAN-TV: Morton talks prosecutor accountability
- KVUE-TV: Exoneree Michael Morton shares his story at UT
- MyFoxAustin: Michael Morton speaks at UT law school
- MYFoxAustin: Interview with Jennifer Laurin
- Daily Texan: UT Law hosts forum to discuss prosecutorial oversight
- Austin Statesman: Morton describes painful fight for freedom, how he started anew
- Austin Statesman: Morton can look back on pain and prison but lives in peace
- Austin Statesman: Michael Morton video interview parts one and two.