The Longview News-Journal posts AP coverage, "House OKs Morton criminal justice bill."
The House on Monday approved the Michael Morton Act, a measure designed to prevent wrongful convictions and named in honor of a Texan who spent nearly 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
It would create a uniform “open file” policy in Texas, compelling prosecutors to share case files with defense attorneys that can help defendants’ cases.
Morton, 58, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 slaying of his wife Christine, but freed in October 2011, after DNA testing was done on a bloody bandanna originally found near the couple’s Austin home. Investigators said the DNA evidence led them to another man, Mark Alan Norwood, whose DNA was in a national database as a result of his long criminal history.
"House Tentatively Approves Morton Act, DA Sanctions," is by Brandi Grissom for the Texas Tribune.
On the 50th anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, in which the justices ruled that prosecutors are obligated to provide defendants with exculpatory evidence “material either to guilt or to punishment,” the Texas House tentatively approved two bills meant to prevent wrongful convictions.
State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, said the measures, which she sponsored in the House, were designed "to improve the reliability of criminal convictions."
Both measures come in response to the high-profile exoneration of Michael Morton and the ongoing investigation and trials of the former prosecutor who oversaw his wrongful conviction, state District Judge Ken Anderson of Williamson County. Morton was convicted in 1987 of murdering his wife in Austin. He was exonerated and released from prison in 2011 after DNA testing linked another man to the crime. Morton's lawyers say that Anderson violated Brady rules by withholding crucial evidence that could have pointed to the real killer and prevented the innocent Morton from spending 25 years in prison. Anderson has denied wrongdoing.
"This is a huge first step," Morton said in an interview outside the House gallery. "It will prevent all sorts of abuse."
Morton and his wife, Cynthia, looked on as legislators unanimously approved the measures with little discussion. Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation when Thompson introduced him to the chamber. Since his release, Morton has lobbied lawmakers to enact reforms that would prevent his tragedy from befalling others.
"House approves Michael Morton Act," is by Chuck Lindell for the Austin American-Statesman.
The Texas House tentatively approved the Michael Morton Act without opposition and without debate Monday, then followed with unanimous approval for a Morton-backed bill extending the statute of limitations on misconduct complaints against prosecutors.
With final House approval expected Tuesday, sending the bills to a receptive Gov. Rick Perry, Morton finds himself in the midst of an extraordinary string of victories — beginning with the biggest in October 2011, when he was freed after almost 25 years in prison and declared innocent of the 1986 murder of his first wife, Christine.
Morton next turned the tables on his prosecutor, former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, pushing an unprecedented investigation that led to Anderson’s arrest and brief detention last month after a special court found that he intentionally hid evidence to help ensure Morton’s conviction.
On Monday, seven weeks after watching a jury convict Mark Alan Norwood of his wife’s murder, Morton sat in the House gallery as the two reform bills received overwhelming support on the floor.
After the vote, Morton said he expects the bills to reduce the likelihood that other innocent people are wrongly convicted, particularly the Morton Act, which requires Texas prosecutors to adopt a uniform “open file” policy for sharing information with defendants before trial.
“Had it been in force when I was tried and arrested and all that, I wouldn’t have gone to prison, I wouldn’t have been convicted,” he said. “Open files are common in most counties, but having it legislatively required is a huge step to prevent all sorts of abuse. And I am very encouraged and very happy about it.”
Dallas Morning News coverage is, "Final approval near for bill inspired by Texas exoneree’s murder case," by Claire Cardona.
After the vote, Morton thanked his lobbyist, Thomas Ratliff, who took up the case pro bono.
“He has done this all out of the kindness of his heart, something he thought was very important and Thomas Ratliff should be patted on the back,” he said. “Like a lot of people in my life these days, they’re not accepting a dime. It restores some of my faith in people.”
The measure, which would take effect next year, faces a final procedural vote Monday and then heads to Gov. Rick Perry.
Morton was exonerated by DNA evidence in the 1986 murder of then-wife Christine Morton. Among evidence withheld during his trial was a record of Morton’s young son saying his father wasn’t the “monster” who murdered his mother.
Prosecutors never made the interview available to defense lawyers. Morton’s exoneration sparked investigation of the Williamson County prosecutor who led the case. Another man has since been convicted of killing Christine Morton.
“This is an incredible day for justice in Texas,” said Ellis. “We must weigh all relevant evidence and ensure we bring all the relevant facts to light to safeguard the innocent, convict only the guilty, and provide justice the people of Texas can have faith in.”
“I want to thank Mr. Morton for holding our feet to the fire and making this happen,” he said.
The House also passed a bill by Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, that would increase prosecutor accountability.
Whitmire’s bill would give exonerees four years after their release to file a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct. Current statute of limitations requires that a complaint be made within four years of when the misconduct occurs, which can make it hard for convicted inmates to access the resources to make their claim.
Earlier coverage of the criminal discovery legislation begins at the link.