A wrongfully convicted man whose prosecutor is now being investigated for withholding evidence is calling for greater accountability of prosecutors nationwide.
"I don't have a lot of things really driving me. But one of the things is, I don't want this to happen to anybody else," Michael Morton tells 60 Minutes correspondent Lara Logan. "Revenge, I know, doesn't work. But accountability works... it's the social glue, in a way. Because if you're not... accountable, then you can do anything."
In his first interview since he was exonerated, Morton tells Logan about his tragic incarceration and what he and others say may be a broader weakness in the justice system. Logan's report will be broadcast Sunday, March 25 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Pointing to other cases of alleged prosecutorial misconduct throughout the country, Morton says more needs to be done to make sure prosecutors disclose evidence favorable to the defense and are held accountable when they don't. "If you did those things... the sort of stuff where you were hiding evidence from a homicide investigation, they'd lock you up in a minute," Morton tells Logan.
By law, prosecutors are required to tell defense lawyers about evidence favorable to the accused. But studies have shown that prosecutors are hardly ever criminally charged and rarely disciplined by the state bar for serious error or misconduct. The Supreme Court has ruled that prosecutors cannot be sued in civil court because of their legal work, even if they withhold evidence.
In 1986, Morton was living with his wife and 3-year-old son near Austin, Texas. He came home from work one day and discovered his wife had been murdered and he was the prime suspect. Though he had no prior criminal record, he was wrongly convicted of the crime and spent 25 years in prison until he was exonerated by DNA testing last year.
Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson prosecuted Morton. It was only recently that Morton's attorneys Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison of The Innocence Project and Houston attorney John Raley discovered exculpatory police reports in Anderson's file from the original trial. One report contained Morton's 3-year-old son's eyewitness account of the murder in which he says his father was not there. Another report describes a neighbor's sighting of a van and a strange man near the murder scene. Says Scheck, "If they had been revealed, and the defense had seen them, Michael Morton would have been acquitted." Morton's original trial lawyers say Anderson never told them about these reports.
Anderson, now a district judge in Williamson County, has admitted a mistake was made, but denied any misconduct. He turned down a request to be interviewed by 60 Minutes. An independent judge recently initiated a special criminal inquiry into Anderson's handling of the case.
Scheck says there have been a number of high profile cases which raise questions about prosecutors' actions and are evidence of the need for added safeguards and scrutiny. "This is a very important moment. We've had a whole series of cases in this country that have focused attention on this issue," Scheck says.
Locked up in maximum security prisons for nearly 25 years, Morton left a courtroom a free man last October. "We stepped out of the courtroom and it was a beautiful sunny day. The sun felt so good on my face, on my skin," he tells Logan, who asks if he had ever felt the sun before. He replies, "I'd felt the sun, but I hadn't felt free sun."