This weekend, the Houston Cinema Arts Film Festival was held in venues all around the downtown area with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston at its center; in its final session last night the festival screened An Unreal Dream, the story about Michael Morton, who was wrongly convicted of his wife’s murder in 1986 and then trapped in the Texas prison system for 25 years while our corrupt judicial system allowed the prosecutor and his successor to block efforts to free him. Last week, that corrupt prosecutor, Ken Anderson, plead guilty to willfully withholding evidence, after his successor had lost his bid for re-election. Anderson got a brief jail sentence; however, he will be disbarred, the first time in US history that a prosecutor has been held accountable for withholding evidence.
The real tragedy was that the real killer stayed free for 25 years, allowing him to kill at least one other victim. Using DNA evidence that had been concealed for 25 years, the real murderer, Mark Norwood was identified and arrested. He was convicted for Christine Morton’s murder and was indicted for the murder of another woman, Debra Masters Baker. Had Anderson and the Wiliamson County sheriff not focused so myopically on Morton, perhaps Baker’s murder could have been avoided. The evidence withheld included an eye witness account of Morton’s own young son, who described to the sheriff a monster with a big mustache and “red hands”. By the way, Norwood has a huge mustache, and had clubbed Christine Morton to a bloody mass with a club.
The film is powerful, and will be broadcast by CNN throughout the month of December. By happenstance last night, we were seated directly behind Raley and the Morton family. The emotion they experienced through during the film was moving. There was a group discussion afterwards with Mimi Mimi Swartz from Texas Monthly moderating, and participants John Raley, the attorney who worked for 6 years for pro bono, Michael Morton, and Al Reinert, the director who made the film. Morton is now the face of reform for our justice system. He is forgiving, gracious, and peaceful after his ordeal. He even encouraged Anderson’s prosecutors and judge to be lenient on Anderson; I’m not sure I could have done the same.
During May of this year, in a rare show of bi-partisanship, the State Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the Michael Morton Act, which required prosecutors to provide all evidence obtained during criminal investigations to the defendant. I thought this was already the case; shockingly, prosecutors in each Texas county were allowed to establish their own policies. No longer.
Here’s the trailer for the film. I highly recommend it.