Brandi Grissom, Texas Tribune

Reporter with The Texas Tribune

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.

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Texas
4:29 pm
Fri June 1, 2012

State Backs DNA Testing for Hank Skinner

Photo by Caleb Bryant MIller/Texas Tribune

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General's office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

"Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state," lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

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Texas
11:08 am
Tue May 29, 2012

Director of Troubled Youth Agency to Retire

Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State University

Cherie Townsend, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of June after nearly four years leading the state's institutions for youth offenders.

In an email sent Tuesday morning to agency staff, Townsend wrote that in the last couple of months, as the agency has struggled to deal with reports of increasing violence and safety concerns at the state's youth lockups, her "values and principles related to best practices in juvenile justice" have detracted from "the mission and work of the agency."

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Williamson County
4:36 pm
Wed May 16, 2012

Morton Case is Focus of Williamson County DA Race

County Attorney Jana Duty is challenging District Attorney John Bradley for his position in Williamson County.
Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom and Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Michael Morton’s name isn’t on the ballot, and he isn’t endorsing anyone in what has become a nasty campaign to become the next district attorney in tough-on-crime Williamson County. 

But his wrongful conviction is the central issue in the GOP primary fight between incumbent District Attorney John Bradley — who spent five years opposing DNA testing that ultimately exonerated Morton — and County Attorney Jana Duty.

While Morton may be staying out of the fray, many close to his case have decided to get involved, hoping, they say, to change the way justice is meted out in Williamson County by urging voters to hold Bradley accountable.

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Texas
2:09 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

State Seeks Gag Order in 1986 Murder Case

Mark Norwood being led into court for the first time on Jan. 18th 2011. He is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.
Photo by Spencer Selvidge, Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — Attorneys for the Texas attorney general's office today asked Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes to issue a gag order in the case of Mark Alan Norwood, the 57-year-old Bastrop resident who is facing trial in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.

"There exists an ongoing serious and imminent threat to the integrity of the administration of justice in these causes as a result of such extrajudicial statements," Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner wrote in the motion seeking to silence parties in the case.

Judge Barnes said he would take the motion under advisement.

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Texas
12:39 pm
Thu February 16, 2012

Ft Worth Judge To Lead Ken Anderson Court of Inquiry

Michael Morton hearing on February 10, 2012 at the Williamson Co. Courthouse.
Photo by Spencer Selvidge, Texas Tribune

Tarrant County state district Judge Louis Sturns will lead a court of inquiry to investigate allegations of criminal prosecutorial misconduct against former prosecutor Ken Anderson, who saw to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton in 1987.

Morton was exonerated of his wife's 1986 bludgeoning death in October after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Defense lawyers have alleged that the wrongful conviction would not have happened and Morton would not have lost 25 years in prison if Anderson, who is now a Williamson County judge, had not deliberately withheld evidence that indicated his innocence at the time of the 1987 trial.

“This is a historic moment for Texas justice," said John Raley, the Houston lawyer who has worked pro bono on Morton's case for seven years. "We are confident that Judge Sturns will handle this important case with the seriousness and probity demonstrated by Judge [Sid] Harle and [Texas Supreme Court] Justice [Wallace] Jefferson.”

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Austin
4:34 pm
Fri February 10, 2012

Judge Orders Court of Inquiry for Morton Prosecutor

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — Judge Sid Harle said today he will recommend that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson convene a court of inquiry to review a slew of evidence against former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson and determine whether there is probable cause to press criminal charges of prosecutorial misconduct related to his work in 1987 to secure a wrongful murder conviction that sent Michael Morton to prison for life.

In addition to allowing a full public airing of the evidence, the Bexar County state district judge said the unique legal proceeding would allow Anderson, who is now a district judge, the opportunity to clear his name.

“The only method and venue I know of for that to occur and for Mr. Morton’s interests to be served” is a court of inquiry, Harle said.

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Texas
6:07 pm
Wed February 1, 2012

Williamson County Grand Jury Indicts Mark Norwood

Mark Alan Norwood was indicted by a Williamson County grand jury for the murder of Christine Morton in 1986.
Photo by Spencer Selvidge/Texas Tribune

A Williamson County grand jury today returned a capital murder indictment against 57-year-old Bastrop resident Mark Alan Norwood in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced.

“An indictment in a cold case cannot bring back the life that was unnecessarily taken, but this is a big step toward answering long unresolved questions for the crime victim’s family,” Abbott said in a press release.

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year in review
2:15 pm
Tue December 27, 2011

Most-Read Stories of 2011: Perry, UT, the Budget

Image courtesy Texas Tribune

As 2011 comes to a close, we are taking a look back at the stories our readers liked best, judging by the number of pageviews they received.

With our governor jumping into the GOP presidential fray in August, stories about Rick Perry quickly and definitively became the most popular on the Trib site. And he didn't fail to provide excellent material. Seven of the 10 most-read stories this year are about Perry — his politics, his past and his policy stances.

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Central Texas
10:01 am
Tue November 29, 2011

Lawyer Group Files Grievances in Morton Case

Judge and former prosecutor Ken Anderson speaks about the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton.
Photo by Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability filed grievances with the State Bar of Texas on Monday against former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, his former assistant Mike Davis and current District Attorney John Bradley, alleging that the prosecutors violated state laws and professional ethics in the case against Michael Morton.

Morton was released last month after spending nearly 25 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife in 1986. Morton's lawyers have discovered that prosecutors did not turn over to defense attorneys or the trial judge evidence that pointed to another man as the murderer and could have prevented the wrongful conviction.

The State Bar would not confirm receipt of the grievances, but the agency said last month that it had launched its own investigation of prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Morton's lawyers are also pursuing their own investigation of alleged wrongdoing.

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Central Texas
5:05 pm
Wed November 9, 2011

Suspect in Michael Morton Case Identified

Photo courtesy of Texas Tribune

A suspect whose DNA has been linked to the 1986 murder of Christine Morton and the 1988 murder of Debra Baker is on his way to the Williamson County Jail, according to John Raley, attorney for Michael Morton. Morton was exonerated of his wife's murder last month, based on the DNA evidence that showed someone else committed the crime. 

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Crime
11:28 am
Fri October 21, 2011

From Botched Morton Case, Hope Emerges in Cold Inquiry

Almost everything that Caitlin and Jesse Baker know about their mother, who was mysteriously murdered 23 years ago when they were small children, comes from memories shared by relatives and from fading family photos of the smiling, petite brunette.

Over the years, aunts and uncles told them stories about their protective and generous sister. Their father recalled the loving wife who seemed to live in her pink sweat suit. Their grandmother shared pictures of their mother’s favorite horse, Molly, and tattered newspaper clippings of articles she wrote as a student journalist.

But no one has been able to answer the question that has tormented the Baker children for years: Who entered their North Austin home on Jan. 13, 1988, and beat Debra Masters Baker to death?

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Texas
6:07 pm
Tue October 4, 2011

Morton Released From East Texas Prison After 25 Years

Debra Jan Baker, Michael Morton (center), Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley
Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

GEORGETOWN — With an irrepressible grin, Michael Morton walked out of the Williamson County courthouse today, hand-in-hand with his sister Vicky Warlick, into a free world he last saw when Ronald Reagan was president.

Morton was released today from the Michael state prison unit near Palestine in East Texas, a day after his defense lawyers and Williamson County prosecutors agreed that his conviction for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton should be overturned based on the results of recent DNA testing.

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Texas
1:52 pm
Mon October 3, 2011

Prosecutors Concede Morton Did Not Murder His Wife

Debra Jan Baker, Michael Morton (center), Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley
Photo by Todd Wiseman

Michael Morton, who served 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife Christine, will be released after his attorneys reached an agreement with prosecutors, who said today in a legal filing that Morton was not his wife's killer.

Prosecutors conceded that there is evidence of Morton's "actual innocence." 

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Texas
1:32 pm
Thu September 22, 2011

TDCJ Will End Final Feasts Before Executions

The Walls Unit at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, where the state conducts executions.
Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The long-standing tradition of allowing death row inmates one last special meal of their choosing before they enter the execution chamber ends today, said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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Texas
11:07 am
Fri September 2, 2011

Under Perry, Executions Raise Questions

Photo illustration by Bob Daemmrich/Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

As Gov. Rick Perry touts his tough-on-crime policies on the national political stage, the case of Cameron Todd Willingham will continue to be scrutinized. Scientists have raised questions about whether Willingham set the blaze that killed his three daughters and led to his 2004 execution.

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