Those were some of the first workds Michael Morton spoke after he was freed in a Williamson County courtroom yesterday afternoon. Video of his remarks is at the link.
Chuck Lindell writes, "Morton freed from prison after 25 years," for the Austin American-Statesman.
After an emotional group hug with his parents, Michael Morton took his first act as a free man Tuesday afternoon: facing a three-deep throng of cameras and reporters.
Going from serving a life sentence to giving a news conference in two dizzying days, Morton paused to collect his thoughts after having spent almost 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine.
"This is new to me, so bear with me," he said, his voice slowly picking up speed. "I thank God this wasn't a capital case. I only had life."
Instead of being executed and forgotten, Morton was able to prove his innocence with a team of dedicated lawyers and a series of DNA tests that implicated another man — a felon with convictions or charges in four states — in the death of his wife.
Tuesday's hearing to release Morton from prison was a formality agreed to by Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley while Morton's case heads to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which must approve all sentences thrown out on the grounds of actual innocence.
Until that ruling, Morton is free on a signature bond but technically still serving his murder sentence.
Brandi Grissom posts, "DNA Evidence Leads to Morton's Release After 25 Years," at the Texas Tribune.
For more than six years Morton's attorneys sought to have the DNA testing done that eventually resulted in his release. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, the former chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, opposed the testing and publicly derided attempts to link the murder to "a mystery killer."
Through all the years of pressing courts and prosecutors to review the old evidence, Patricia Morton said she remained hopeful. "We never gave up hope," she said.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals must approve Morton's writ before his conviction is formally overturned. And before he is eligible for compensation, Morton must be acquitted in court or pardoned by the governor, or the prosecutor must dismiss charges against him. Under Texas laws, Morton could be eligible for a lump sum of up to $2 million and an additional monthly annuity worth another $2 million.
Innocence Project co-founder Barry Scheck said that the investigation into the Morton case will not end with his release from prison. Morton's lawyers allege that Williamson County prosecutors violated his due process rights in several ways and withheld evidence that could have prevented his conviction in the first place.
The original prosecutor, Ken Anderson, is now a Williamson County district judge.
Morton's lawyers claim in court documents that the district attorney's office withheld a transcript of a conversation between Rita Kirkpatrick, Christine Morton's mother, and an sheriff's investigator in which she told the officer that Morton's 3-year-old son saw a "monster" who was not his father attack and kill his mother.
The defense attorneys also allege prosecutors withheld information about Christine Morton's credit card being used in San Antonio two days after she was killed and about a check made out to her that was cashed with her forged signature nine days after her death.
"We are not going to rest until we do everything we can to find out what happened in this case," Scheck said.
"Wrongly imprisoned man goes free after 25 years," is the AP report, via CBS News.
The case in Williamson County, north of Austin, will likely raise more questions about the district attorney, John Bradley, a Gov. Rick Perry appointee whose tenure on the Texas Forensic Science Commission was controversial. Bradley criticized the commission's investigation of the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in 2004 after being convicted of arson in the deaths of his three children. Some experts have since concluded the forensic science in the case was faulty.
Bradley did not try the original case against Morton. But the New York-based Innocence Project, which specializes in using DNA testing to overturn wrongful convictions, has accused him of suppressing evidence that would have helped clear Morton sooner. That evidence — including a transcript of a police interview indicating that Morton's son said the attacker was not his father — was ultimately obtained by the Innocence Project through a request under the Texas Public Information Act.
Austin's NBC affilliate KXAN-TV has extensive coverage beginning with "Michael Morton is a free man," reported by Pamela Cosel, Shannon Wolfson, and Nanci Wilson.
Morton walked into the courtroom at 3:14 p.m., dressed in a white long-sleeved, open-collar striped shirt, along with attorneys Barry Sheck and Nina Morrison. They joined attorney John Raley at the defense table. Morton, his formerly dark hair now a silvery gray, smiled broadly as he waited for the hearing to start. He read a few documents that his lawyers put before him, the stillness of the room heavy with corraled excitement, as water held behind a dam.
Morton's mother cried quietly as her son entered the room, and the elderly couple waved at him.
At 3:28 p.m., all of the attorneys went with Judge Sid Harle back to the judge's chambers. At 3:40 p.m., the proceedings started with Raley explaining the current status of the case. Sheck and Morrison added information before the judge.
Harle was swift in his actions -- and offered an apology for what Morton had been through, wrongly imprisoned for 25 years -- before releasing him to his friends and family.
"I have recommended to the Court of Appeals on count one, to accept my finding," he said. He offered his apologies and said, "You have my sympathy. You have my apologies ... We don't have the greatest system ... it shows ultimately that justice will be served."
KXAN also has "Anthony Graves reflects on Morton case," by Dustin Blanchard. There is video at the link.
"I lost 18 years of my life. If they had just done any kind of investigation I would’ve never spent a night in jail, but that’s not the case," said Graves.
Graves said his case and the Morton case are proof of serious problems in the Justice System.
"If you don’t have DNA in your case, it’s like no one wants to hear it," said Graves. "[Morton's] case is just another example of how bad our system is and you think that’s 25 years ago and nothing’s changed in our system."
Graves spent the last year travelling the world talking about his experiences. He now helps counsel prisoners still behind bars. He said his time behind bars gave him a sense of purpose.
"I'm out here living my life trying to save life. I'm trying to educate people about this injustice known as the death penalty and our system," he said.
Graves works for the Texas Defender Service, where he advocates for reforms to the death penalty. Among them: stiff criminal penalties for prosecutorial misconduct, and institution of a review board for death penalty sentences.
"Anybody in whatever county who wants to seek the death penalty has to take that case in front of that panel ," he said. "That is the kind of safeguard that needs to be there. Because when you allow one man to make that decision you don’t know why he's making that decision."
Graves was exonerated and freed in October 2010.
Earlier coverage of Michael Morton's case begins at the link.