Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unlikely Allies: Victim's daugher, convicted murderer, team up to challenge Williamson DA in DNA testing request

I meant to mention this last week when the story came out, but a Williamson County case shows how the vicissitudes of DNA testing can make for some awfully strange allies. Reported the Houston Chronicle ("Lawsuit seeks DNA test in two murders," Aug. 6):
The daughter of a 1980 murder victim and a man convicted of killing his wife in 1987 have asked a federal court to force Williamson County to release evidence from both crimes for DNA testing.

Pat Stapleton, 75, who discovered her mother's battered body, says she hopes the results lead to Mildred McKinney's killer.

Michael Morton hopes the tests will help overturn his life sentence in the death of his wife, Christine.

Both women were beaten to death in the ransacked bedrooms of their Georgetown homes, which were about a half-mile apart. Both were attacked so severely in their beds that blood splattered nearby walls. And both bodies were covered by household items — the 73-year-old McKinney by a reclining chair, small table and vacuum cleaner, and Morton by a suitcase, bedding and a wicker basket.

"I'd like to know that whoever is responsible is in prison or has been executed, and that all this can end," Stapleton said.

Morton spent years asking state courts to allow DNA testing in his case but has not been able to force Williamson County to make evidence available from the McKinney murder.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project in New York say they hope filing a lawsuit in federal court will break the impasse.

The Innocence Project, which helped file the lawsuit, would cover costs of testing.

"For more than three years, the local prosecutor has fought DNA and fingerprint testing that could prove Michael Morton's innocence and finally solve both of these crimes," said Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck. "Patricia Stapleton and Michael Morton come from very different backgrounds, but they have a common goal to use science and every available law enforcement tool to finally reveal the truth in these cases and find justice for their loved ones."

In an era when we've seen so many DNA-based exonerations, I can't imagine Williamson DA John Bradley's justification for not acquiescing to DNA tests, particularly when the victim's family is demanding it. His office doesn't even have to pay for the procedure.

Mr. Bradley is one of those prosecutors who routinely waves the Victim Rights flag whenever he wants to justify whatever egregious legal overstep he's most recently undertaken. But when victim interests might cause him to investigate whether his office made a mistake, suddenly he's not so pro-victim after all.

In perhaps the gravest irony, demonstrating Mr. Bradley is simply out of touch with the issue, the prosecutor opined that "the public might want to remain skeptical of a defendant who to this day doesn't accept responsibility," ignoring the fact that the defendant is claiming the DNA will prove actual innocence! Why should he "accept responsibility" if he didn't do it?

I don't know how the DNA test will turn out and have no way of knowing whether or not Mr. Morton committed the crime. If he did, the DNA should prove it once and for all. But there's just no excuse for a District Attorney simply not wanting to find out, especially when untested evidence exists and the victim's family isn't satisfied they got the right guy.

More at Eye on Williamson County.


Russell Jones said...

At the end of your blog you mention that DNA testing would prove once and for all if the defendant was in fact the perpetrator. That is only the case if the DNA of the defendant or someone else was found. What if the defendant was the perpetrator but none of his DNA was found at the scene? That does not exonerate him. None of this, though, should prevent him from having the test completed to see if an unknown perpetrator did leave DNA.

Anonymous said...

I'll say it again. There is no excuse for Williamson County's conduct. This is just another example. I mean, what do they have to gain by fighting the DNA test, especially considering the victim's family are the ones casting doubt? What the hell - why? Why not just do the DNA test, and why shouldn't Williamson County pay for it? Who is monitoring Williamson County, and it's rival Smith County for that matter?

This news makes me sick but thanks for calling it out. Williamson County would lock a blind man up for looking at them wrong. Let's get some eyes on them.

Unknown said...

The fact of the matter is John Bradley is Scum.

Anonymous said...

The Williamson County DA and staff are afraid of the results of a DNA test.

They're probably prosecuted the wrong guy(s) and are very afraid that they will be found out.

Higher courts should force them allow the test to be done with no further delay.

Of course this is the justice system so there will be delay.

A Voice of Sanity said...

This behavior is what we would expect from the worst, the most despicable, of the world's dictatorships. It brings the reputation of the USA into grave disrepute and is, simply, shameful. In no way is this prosecutor, or those like him, remaining faithful to the oath he took.

Anonymous said...

9/11 was an inside job
Vote Ron Paul!

Unknown said...

Anon @ 9:09, is there any sort of point to your comment?

Anonymous said...

Just as Mr. Bradley has previously (publicly) stated "Innocence trumps everything". Thank God JB is one of a kind, which is more than enough.

Anonymous said...

If you start saying that anyone in prision can get a DNA test if someone else pays then the prisoner with nobody else to pay will sue to have the state pay for it... equal protection and all.

Either the availability of DNA testing throws *all* prior convictions into doubt or it doesn't. There is not tidy place to draw the line once you open those floodgates. The dude was convicted, he offers no new reason to believe otherwise.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"he offers no new reason to believe otherwise."

Perhaps not, but the DNA evidence might and it wasn't available when he was convicted.

Anonymous said...

If you follow this link to Eye on Williamson County

you will find the actual lawsuit filed by the Innocence Project. The lawsuit details both crime scenes and the prosecution of Morton. The two murders were eerily similar. The case against Morton seems to have been built on circumstantial evidence. I was personally bothered by the details given in the lawsuit. The man has maintained his innocence. There was DNA and fingerprints left at both scenes that should be tested. One would have to question why testing hasn't already been done just based on the remarkable similarities of the two murders, and that one of the murders is still UNSOLVED.

Is there a possibility this evidence has been destroyed? Bradley's explanation for not turning over the DNA evidence is not acceptable. For those people living in Williamson County, the handling of these cases should be troubling to say the least, not to mention the arrogance of the DA.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
"prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence" is what Williamson County DA John Bradley is doing.

He is quoted saying in the local papers things such as:

"the lawsuit is an attempt to manipulate the criminal justice system."

"It is just a shame the Michael Morton is using this case for his own personal advantage", Mr. Bradley said of the unsolved Mildred McKinney murder case.

"We certainley hope to someday to identify a suspect in the case, but a federal lawsuit is not going to speed that process up," he said. "I also want to say that Michael Morton's lawyer has made things more complicated becasue he represents Mildred McKinny's daughter and Michael Morton at the same time, which in my mind creates a conflict of interest. It also prevents us from communicating with her to help keep her up to speed on what we are doing."

IIPP has a great write up on their site comparing the 2 cases and the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Raley points to stiking similarities in the two cases. The crimes occured less than a mile from one another and in a similar fashion. The nightgowns of both women had been pulled up over their waists and house hold items had been placed over their bodies. Both had been bludgeon to death with such force, there ways blood spatter on the walls.

"I think that is another very superficial way to manipulate the case," Mr. Bradley countered. "Those two occured five or six years apart from each other. Other than the fact that two women were killed, there are really not any distinguishing characteristics," he said.

Mr. Bradely, if you can't see the similarities, you need that DNA. You certainly can't rely on your own "smarts".

Anonymous said...

Y'all needa take a deep breath and remember that Mr. Bradley wasn't the DA when them murders happened.

Also remember the facts of these murders were not nearly as close as that law suit makes out. Surprise surprise if them lawyers didn't go an cherry pick the few things that match and raise Cain over 'em. Don't let yer hate fer Bradley's Law&Order mentality cloud your judgement.

Anonymous said...

This is a request for a DNA test.

Why is everyone so afraid of it? Sure DNA tests are expensive. So is putting the wrong guy in prison!

Any financial consideration in this case is penny wise and pound foolish. In the long run, we all profit when the justice system works properly.

Anonymous said...

Bradley wasn't the DA at the time, but his good buddy Ken Anderson was hired in 1980 by DA Ed Walsh; then Anderson was appointed as DA in 1985. Bradley was hired by Anderson in 1989. Here's a play by play:

1976 Ed Walsh is elected as DA; 1980 Hires Ken Anderson (same year Mrs. McKinney is murdered); 1984 serial killer Otis Toole confessed to the murder and was indicted but never prosecuted for this murder. 1985 Anderson is appointed DA by Gov. Mark White. 1986 Attorney General publishes report stating Toole was in Florida at the time of Mrs. McKinney's murder. That same year Mrs. Morton is murdered and the crime scene has remarkable similarities to the McKinney crime scene. 1987 Mrs. Morton's husband is convicted of her murder. 1989 DA Anderson hires Bradley as a prosecutor. 1996 Williamson County dismisses the indictment against Toole. 2001 Anderson is appointed by Gov Perry to the 277th District Court, Gov Perry appoints John Bradley as new District Attorney, Anderson's replacement. In 2006 Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield, presiding over the 26th District Court since 1992, refuses DNA testing on the bandana and doesn't completely answer the motion filed 18 months earlier. 2008 Sheriff James Wilson refuses to turnover pertinent police records and documents in McKinney's death to the counsel for Mrs. McKinney's daughter. His refusal was prepared with assistance from the DA's office in which they claim there is an ongoing homicide investigation.

Anonymous said...

Michael Morton would already be out of prison if he had admitted in any of his parole eligibility hearings that he actually committed this crime. Even after 20 plus years he continues to maintain he is innocent. Why would a man continue to be incarcerated under the conditions he is forced to be in when he could easily have admitted guilt and been released years ago? I strongly believe that he was railroaded. I am glad to see the story is back in the news and hopefully someone will do something to help this man prove or disprove his case.