Texas' Michael Morton spent 25 years in jail as county that wronged Greg Kelley simply ASSUMED he killed his wife
A new Showtime docuseries delves into the wrongful conviction of Texas high school football star Greg Kelley, who was accused of sexually abusing two children at an in-home daycare. 'Outcry', directed by Emmy-award winning film-maker Paul Kondelis, sheds light on the controversial case that convicted an innocent man of a crime he didn't commit, as a result of authorities mishandling the case and an ill-intentioned prosecutor.
That said, the documentary interestingly points out how Williamson County — which wrongfully convicted Kelley and possibly destroyed his promising football career — has a history of controversial convictions. One of the county's most notable cases is that of Michael Morton, who spent nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife before another DNA evidence implicated another man in the crime.
On August 12, 1986, Morton celebrated his birthday at a restaurant with his wife Christine and their three-year-old son. The following morning, he left a note for his wife expressing disappointment that she wasn't intimate with him the night before. Nonetheless, he ended the note saying "I love you" and left for work at about 5.30 am. Christine's body would be found in their bed later that morning — bludgeoned to death with a wooden weapon on a sheet stained with semen. About 100 yards from the Morton home, investigators recovered a bloody bandana from a construction site the day after Christine's body was found.
During interrogation, Christine's mother told authorities that the Mortons' son Eric had witnessed the murder in front of his own eyes. He told his grandmother that the murderer was a "monster" and specifically mentioned that his “Daddy was not home when it happened. Eric was able to describe the crime scene and murder in detail. Police were told by neighbors that a man would often park a green van on the street behind Morton's house and disappear into a nearby wooded area. Meanwhile, Christine's missing credit card was recovered at a jewelry store in San Antonio and an officer was confident he could identify the woman who had tried to use the card. Shockingly, as it would later emerge, none of this information was turned over to Morton's defense lawyers during his trial.
The defense soon began to suspect that the prosecution might be holding back potentially exculpatory evidence, especially after learning they were not calling Sergeant Don Woods, the chief investigator in the case, to the stand. But despite a judge ordering the prosecution to turn over all investigative reports for a thorough review, they did not share with the judge evidence regarding Eric’s account, the green van, as well as Christine Morton’s credit card.
The prosecution, without any witnesses or physical evidence, hypothesized that Morton had beaten his wife to death because she refused him sex on his birthday. As fate would have it, he was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison on February 17, 1987.
Almost two decades later, in 2005, the Innocence Project joined hands with law firm Raley & Bowick to file a motion requesting additional DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene. Once again, the court granted permission to test only some of the items — excluding the bloody bandana recovered near the Mortons' residence. It took five more years for the courts to finally grant Morton's lawyers testing on the bandana and hair from the bandana. It was found that it contained both Christine Morton’s DNA and the DNA of an unknown male.
After running samples through the police database, the unknown DNA profile matched that of Mark Norwood, a convicted felon who had a criminal record in Texas and was living there at the time of Christine's murder. Further into the probe, investigators found that Norwood's DNA was also found at another crime scene. Debra Masters Baker was bludgeoned to death at her Travis County residence two years after Christine's death. By then, Michael was already in prison.
The wrongfully convicted father faced terrible hardships in prison. He admitted he would often, in his head, plot the murder of those who put him behind bars and it took years before he finally came to terms with his situation. His son, after a point, wrote to him that he wouldn't be visiting him anymore in prison — further breaking Michael's spirit.
Fortunately, the new evidence meant Michael Morton was not responsible for his wife's murder. He was finally released from prison on October 4, 2011, after spending nearly 25 years in prison, and officially exonerated on December 19, 2011.
“I’ve been out about five months now," Morton was later quoted as saying. "I came out of the gym the other morning, and the sun was just over the horizon and there was orange and purple and a little bit of a breeze that was drying the perspiration on my forehead and it felt so good. I’ve been going to restaurants looking for things I have never eaten. I had crabmeat manicotti recently. It was delicious. My bad days are good.” Following his release, Morton moved in with his parents in Liberty City, Texas. He married Cynthia May Chessman, who attended the same church as Morton since his exoneration, in March 2013. The duo lives a happy and peaceful life in Texas.
During the post-conviction DNA litigation, Morton's lawyers obtained the other documents that had been withheld at trial. The Texas Supreme Court subsequently ordered an unprecedented Court of Inquiry into Ken Anderson, the former prosecutor who withheld exculpatory information, to see if he was guilty of misconduct. It was found that there was probable cause to believe that Anderson, who went on to become a judge, had violated criminal laws by concealing evidence. He was then charged with criminal contempt and tampering with evidence, with the State Bar of Texas introducing additional ethics charges.
Anderson finally entered a criminal contempt in November 2013 and served a 10-day jail sentence. He subsequently resigned as a district court judge and surrendered his law license permanently.