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.”
Morton's lawyers, including Raley and Nina Morrison and Barry Scheck of the New York-based Innocence Project, sought a court of inquiry to determine whether Anderson broke state laws and violated professional ethics codes by withholding evidence when he prosecuted Morton. They filed a 140-page report outlining the allegations to Bexar County state district Judge Sid Harle, who presided over Morton's exoneration.
Last week, Harle recommended that Justice Jefferson appoint such a court after he decided there was probable cause to believe that Anderson should face charges of contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records.
"The record contains evidence that a public official may have committed serious misconduct, and that this misconduct may have contribtued to the wrongful conviction and lengthy incarceration of ... Michael Morton, now known to be factually innocent," Harle wrote in his order.
In a letter to Sturns today, Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson advised the judge that he has been assigned to oversee the unusual court proceeding.
Anderson's lawyers, Eric Nichols and Mark Dietz, have strenuously denied charges of wrongdoing and said that the judge looks forward to clearing his name in court.