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New DNA Evidence Points to a Third-Party Intruder in Case of Texas Man Who Has Served 25 Years in Prison for Murdering his Wife

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Innocence Project Asks Court to Remove DA John Bradley and Appoint a New Prosecutor to Investigate

Contact:  Paul Cates, 212/364-5346, cell 917-566-1294; pcates@innocenceproject.org

(Austin, TX – August 17, 2011) New DNA testing of crime scene evidence provides powerful new proof that Williamson County resident Christine Morton was murdered by a third-party intruder, not her husband Michael.  Michael Morton, who has served 25 years in prison for the crime, has always maintained his innocence and spent the last six years fighting for DNA testing over the District Attorney’s objections. The new tests have now identified a convicted offender in the national DNA databank as the man whose DNA is mixed with the blood and hair of the murder victim on a bloody bandana recovered near the crime scene.

In light of the new evidence, the Innocence Project filed legal documents today asking the trial judge to appoint a new prosecutor in the case because District Attorney John Bradley’s bias against Michael Morton and the Innocence Project and past history on the case prevents Bradley from conducting an impartial review of the new DNA evidence and pursuing the actual assailant.

“These DNA results prove that Michael Morton was telling the truth all along,” said Barry Scheck, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “It’s clear from the new DNA testing and other suppressed, exculpatory documents that law enforcement never followed up on numerous leads pointing to a third-party intruder, which might have solved the crime.  But even more troubling, District Attorney Bradley knew about this evidence, yet kept these documents hidden in the State’s file while he fought tooth and nail to bar DNA testing.”

Michael Morton has always maintained his innocence of the murder of his wife Christine, who was found dead in their home by a neighbor the morning of August 13, 1986.  At trial, the prosecution argued that Michael beat his wife to death after she refused to have sex with him upon returning from his 32nd birthday celebration at a restaurant.  There were no witnesses or physical evidence linking Michael to the crime. The prosecution relied largely on the fact that Michael left a note to Christine on the bathroom vanity expressing his disappointment with the fact that she fell asleep on him. (The note closed with the words “I love you.”)  Michael’s co-workers testified that he arrived at work at about 6 a.m. that morning and didn’t notice anything unusual about his behavior.

For more than six years, the Innocence Project has been seeking access to DNA testing on a stained bandana that was found on an abandoned construction site approximately 100 yards from the crime scene.  Over the repeated objections of Bradley, the Texas Court of Appeals finally granted testing on the bandana last year.  On June 20, 2011, the testing laboratory issued a report finding that the bandana contained the DNA of a man other than Michael, along with Christine’s blood and hair.  The male DNA was put though the national DNA database and has been linked to a convicted offender. 

“Michael had to spend the last six years fighting just to get access to DNA testing.  Unfortunately, we now know that the District Attorney’s office knew all along that there was a good chance that the testing might point to another perpetrator in the case,” said John Raley, a Houston lawyer who has been pro bono co-counsel for Mr. Morton since 2003.  “We’re hopeful the court will appoint a new prosecutor to investigate the matter because there is now a mountain of evidence pointing to Michael’s innocence, and the entire Morton family deserves to know the truth about what happened 25 years ago.” 

In response to a Public Information Act request, the Innocence Project obtained the transcripts of the state’s chief investigator’s interview with the Christine’s mother that was conducted less than two weeks after the murder.  In the transcript, she describes a conversation with the couple’s three-year-old son Eric, who told her in chilling detail that he witnessed an unknown man murder his mother.

The court papers note that this newly discovered evidence was turned over by the state Attorney General’s office in 2008 over the objection of Bradley, who personally reviewed the material and asked that it not be turned over because of the ongoing litigation over DNA testing. 
The motion also charges that there was other newly disclosed information also pointing to a third-party intruder, including the fact that a neighbor told police that they “had on several occasions observed a male park a green van on the street behind (the Morton’s) address, then the subject would get out and walk into the wooded area off the road.”  A handwritten telephone message to an investigator indicated that what appeared to be Christine’s missing Visa credit card was recovered from a store in San Antonio, but there was no indication that investigators ever pursued the individual who used the stolen card.

Given the fact that Bradley clearly knew that there was evidence of a third-party intruder, the motion argues that his repeated objections to testing of the bandana are further proof that he is incapable of objectively continuing in this case.  He opposed the testing even though there was another unsolved murder in the county that bore a highly similar modus operandi.  In an interview on WXAN-TV he derided Morton’s request to test the evidence in light of the unsolved case as “silly,” and he told Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle that Morton was “grasping at straws” by refusing to give up his quest for DNA testing.

The legal papers also note Bradley’s animosity towards the Innocence Project while serving as the Commissioner for the state Forensic Science Commission, which was asked by the Innocence Project to investigate whether the state was negligent in its prosecution and execution of Cameron Todd Willingham.  The Commission ultimately found that the arson science used to convict Willingham of arson murder was outdated and without scientific basis.  During his tenure as Chairman, Bradley, who was appointed by Governor Perry,  repeatedly tried to derail the investigation and even referred to Willingham in the press as a “guilty monster” before the Commission had opportunity to hear from its own experts in the investigation.  Bradley, who was ultimately stripped of his chairmanship by the state Senate, was widely criticized by news outlets throughout the state because of concerns that he was incapable of being impartial. At numerous points during his tenure, he disparaged the work of the Innocence Project, specifically naming its Co-Director Scheck and state Senator Rodney Ellis, who also serves as the President of the Innocence Project Board of Directors.   

The DNA testing in the case was conducted by the Orchid Cellmark laboratory in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, using state-of-the-art technology unavailable at the time of Mr. Morton’s trial.

Download a copy of the motion that was filed today before District Court Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield.