The Texas Tribune posts, "House Panel Hears Testimony on 'Michael Morton Act'," by Brandi Grissom.
Just more than a week after the arrest of Ken Anderson, the former prosecutor who oversaw the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton in 1987, a House committee on Monday considered legislation that would require prosecutors to turn over evidence to defense lawyers in criminal cases.
Senate Bill 1611, dubbed the "Michael Morton Act" by state Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, was approved unanimously April 11 by the Senate. Currently, prosecutors aren't required by state law to provide evidence to defense lawyers unless ordered to by the court. Among the charges Anderson faces is failing to comply with a judge's order regarding turning over evidence.
Morton told members of the House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee on Monday that the bill would prevent wrongful convictions like the one he suffered.
"If it could happen to me, it could happen to you," said Morton, who spent nearly 25 years behind bars. The measure was left pending in the committee.
"We want to improve fairness and consistency,” said state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, who is sponsoring the bill in the House. The measure, she said, is the first major reform to the Texas discovery system since 1965.
Many Texas prosecutors now have some form of open file policy, but the procedures vary by county and sometimes within a district attorney's office. In a February report based on a survey of more than 40 prosecutors' offices, Texas Appleseed and Texas Defender Service, both justice advocacy organizations, found that "lack of uniformity in discovery policies in Texas makes access to justice dependent, in part, on where a defendant is charged."
Under SB 1611, prosecutors would be required to turn over evidence both before trial and after it begins. A record would be kept of the exchange of evidence.
Legislators have proposed opening the discovery process in previous legislative sessions, but the high-profile Morton case and his promotion of reform to prevent wrongful convictions gave the effort momentum this year.
"Exonerated Man Tells Legislature: Repeal Death Penalty," is Chris Tomlinson's AP filing, via KXAS-TV.
A man who spent 18 years on death row before a court exonerated him begged the Texas Legislature on Monday to repeal the death penalty.
Anthony Graves made his appeal to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, which was considering a bill to stop executions in Texas.
"You tried to execute me twice for a crime that I knew nothing about," Graves told lawmakers. "You not only put me on death row, you put my family on death row, you put my children on death row ... and my children grew up without me."
Graves spent 18 years in prison before he was cleared by DNA evidence. The state gave him two execution dates before he was finally cleared and on Monday he pleaded with the lawmakers to end the death penalty.
"There are innocent men, mentally challenged men, insane men on death row, and you want to execute them," he added. "As long as we continue with this death penalty, as long as we don't get serious about it, you're going to continue to execute innocent people and you are going to call it justice."
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, authored the bill, but she acknowledged it had little chance of passing.
"Every time we bring this up we get a bit closer to seeing this become a reality in Texas," Farrar said. "In the past six years, six states have done away with the death penalty."