29 April 2012

Confess, and then we'll test the DNA

Does that sound as ridiculous to you as it does to me?

Standard operating procedure in Texas, apparently.

Story from NPR:

On August 13, 1986, Christine Morton was murdered in her home outside of Austin, Texas.

Her husband, Michael Morton, was quickly identified as the primary suspect.

He was arrested and convicted.

Police chose to ignore a bloody bandanna found outside the house:

A bloody bandanna had been found by a deputy behind the Morton home. Incredibly, the sheriff's office decided to ignore it and left it lying on the ground.
Police actively suppressed the testimony of the couple's 4-year-old son, Eric, who described a stranger entering the house and hurting his mother:
This determined avoidance of inconvenient evidence was complete the next day, when the Mortons' son, Eric, who was almost 4, privately told Christine Morton's mother what happened the morning of the murder. Eric told his grandmother that a "monster" came into the house, that the monster was big and angry, that he hurt his mother and his mother was crying.
[...]
The deputy who took her call told Kirkpatrick not to tell anyone else about her conversation with Eric and to keep Eric quiet too. Morton was the murderer — they were confident.
Police ignored the fact that Christine's credit card was used in San Antonio two days after her death:
This information should have had Williamson County investigators scrambling to San Antonio. After all, Christine Morton's purse was missing. This was possible evidence of capital murder, since murdering in the commission of another crime brings the possibility of the death penalty.

However, the Williamson County Sheriff's Department never even bothered to return the San Antonio Police Department's call. In a note found 25 years later in the sheriff's file, a deputy mocked the notion that Christine's purse really had been stolen, writing, "'Course, we know better."
Later, after Michael was convicted, police refused to test DNA left at the crime scene - semen on Christine's body and blood found there - unless Michael confessed first:
For years, Williamson County fought Morton's requests to have the evidence in his case tested. Prosecutors ridiculed his efforts and taunted him, saying they'd consider DNA testing the evidence only if Morton would first take responsibility for the crime. It was when a Texas appeals court finally ordered the bandanna DNA-tested last year that law enforcement's arrogance was blown to pieces.
Yep. As soon as they tested the DNA, they realized they had the wrong guy, and they let Michael go. After 25 years in prison. After Eric, his son, changed his last name:
From the tip about the credit card to the man in the green van behind the Morton house to Eric's eyewitness account of his mother's murder — all of this evidence was withheld from both the judge in the case and the defense attorneys.

And so Morton didn't get to see Eric grow up. When Eric was 12, he stopped seeing his father in prison. When he was 18, he changed his last name from Morton.

And... what's the official response to this chain of damning facts? Let's quote the press conference from the former district attorney, now a state judge, who prosecuted the case:
"There have been a number of allegations made about professional conduct by the prosecutors, including me, in this case," he says. "In my heart, I know there was no misconduct whatsoever."
Yeah, dude. Sure. Whatever. May your knowledge of your innocence do you exactly as much good as Michael Morton's knowledge of his own innocence did him.

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