5 – Michael Morton (Convicted in 1987)
On August 13, 1986, Christine Morton was found dead in her bed. She had been beaten to death by a wooden object, and a suitcase and wicker baskets were piled on top of her. She was lying on sheets stained with semen and her husband, Michael, was only at the very beginning of a nightmare that would last for a quarter of a century. The day after the discovery of the body, police discovered a bandana belonging to Christine stained with blood in a construction site just 100 yards from the Morton home.
Later that month, Christine’s mother claimed that the Morton’s son, Eric, had witnessed the murder. The 3-year old said the killer was a ‘monster,’ and while he described the scene in detail, he claimed his father was not at home. The Morton’s neighbors said they saw a green van parked in the street behind the Morton’s house on several occasions; a man appeared from the van and walked into a wooded area. Furthermore, the victim’s stolen Visa card turned up in a San Antonio jewelry store, and a police officer said he could identify the woman who used the card. When it came to the trial, later on, the prosecution failed to turn over any of the evidence to the defense.
As Michael Morton was the last person to see his wife alive, he became the prime suspect. He protested his innocence and claimed she was alive when he left for work early that morning. The trial in 1987 was marked by severe misconduct on behalf of the prosecution. When the defense learned that the prosecution was not calling Sergeant Don Wood (the lead investigator on the case) to the stand, they suspected that the prosecution was hiding exculpatory evidence. However, the prosecution falsely claimed that all favorable evidence was presented to the defense. This lie cost Michael Morton dearly.
The prosecution gave the judge a sealed file which contained all of Wood’s reports and notes; the file did not contain the visa card, the van, Eric’s account or a forged check that was found. Travis County’s medical examiner said Christine died no later than 1:15 am based on the contents of her stomach but admitted that it was not a scientific statement. The prosecution claimed that Michael beat his wife to death and masturbated on her corpse. As for motive, they suggested that he attacked his wife for not providing him with sex on his birthday. It was a theory based on nothing and Michael had no record of violent behavior and no previous arrests.
Michael was convicted on February 17, 1987, and sentenced to life in prison. He appealed the decision immediately, but it was denied. DNA testing on the bed sheet in 1990 found that the semen stain matched his DNA profile, but that was hardly a surprise since it was his bed. Once again, the Innocence Project got involved, and in 2011, DNA testing on the bandana found that it contained the DNA of Christine and an unidentified male. Eventually, it was discovered that the DNA matched a convicted felon named Mark Norwood. Further investigation showed that Norwood’s DNA was found at the scene of another murder in Travis County.
Michael Morton was released on October 4, 2011, after serving almost 25 years in prison. In March 2013, Norwood was found guilty of the murder of Christine Morton and received a life sentence. In April 2013, the Williamson County District Attorney who acted as the prosecution in the case, Ken Anderson, was charged with criminal contempt and evidence tampering. He was sentenced to 10 days in prison but was released after five.