Miles J. LeBlanc 2015-01-25 21:32:00
Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace The CNN documentary An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story is an unforgettable expose of the circumstances leading to Michael Morton’s wrongful conviction and life sentence in 1986 for the murder of his wife. Having seen the film, I was eager to read Morton’s recently published memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace (Simon & Schuster, 2014). Morton, who earned a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Houston while imprisoned, displays impressive writing chops. His compelling story is informed by an unshakeable faith in his inevitable salvation and by the persistent efforts of his “army of attorneys,” including Bill White and Bill Allison, his original murder trial attorneys; John Raley, his pro bono counsel; and Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison, his Innocence Project lawyers. Morton recounts in straightforward fashion the grim details of the murder of his wife, Christine, on Aug. 13, 1986, by an intruder who entered their Austin-area home after Morton left for work. He focuses on exculpatory evidence that Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson failed to provide to defense attorneys, which came to light post-imprisonment, including a story that Morton’s 3-year-old son had told his maternal grandmother about a “monster” striking his mother on the morning of her murder when Morton was not at home. The grandmother recounted that statement to the lead investigator, who transcribed it, but the transcript was never provided to defense counsel at trial. Another major piece of evidence was a bloody bandanna found near the Morton residence the day after the murder by Morton’s brother-in-law, which was turned over to the sheriff’s office. After testing in 2011, that bandanna proved to contain DNA from his wife and a man later determined to be Mark Alan Norwood. This DNA evidence was the linchpin for both Morton’s exoneration and for the 2013 capital murder conviction of Norwood. Morton does a fine job of summarizing his murder trial. He sheds a harsh light on the prosecutorial shenanigans of Anderson and the testimony of the medical examiner, Roberto Bayardo, who changed his initial opinion of the time of death from approximately 6 a.m., after Morton had already left for work, to approximately 1:15 a.m., when he was still at home. He describes his years of incarceration with a light and deft touch, leavening the horrors of penitentiary life and the loss of his son through adoption by his sister-in-law with gentle humor and wry observations. For example, he describes himself and an inmate who he befriended as “the intellectual giants of the prison dayroom— something akin to being the state’s prettiest armadillo.” One of the overriding impressions I had of Morton as I watched him in the CNN documentary was his otherworldly serenity, something that shines just as brightly throughout the pages of his book. Somehow, he managed to retain his dignity and humanity even after spending a quarter century in a brutally dehumanizing environment. Remarkably, at the end of his travail, there is none of the anger that you would expect from someone who has been cheated out of 25 years of his life. Morton explains how he grew to be at peace with his fate after experiencing a divine revelation in the form of a powerful, blinding light that appeared suddenly one night in his cell. Since his release, Morton has developed a greater appreciation for the things in life that most of us in the free world take for granted, such as wearing well-tailored clothes made of soft fabrics (not rough-hewn prison uniforms), having the ability to savor a variety of quality foods and eat in an unrushed manner using regular utensils, and being able to live a non-regimented life where days do not begin mandatorily at 3:30 a.m. Morton’s courage and perseverance serve as an inspiration to all of us not to give up on life even when it throws you a vicious, Koufax-caliber curve ball. He refused to stop his seemingly quixotic quest for exoneration and freedom, and as a direct result of his determination, all criminal defendants are now afforded the benefit of two bills, both enacted into law in 2013. Only one is mentioned in the book—Senate Bill 1611, the eponymous Michael Morton Act (as codified in revised Art. 39.14, Texas Code of Criminal Procedure), which expands discovery rights for criminal defendants. The other, Senate Bill 825 (as codified in revised Section 81.072, Texas Government Code), extends the starting point of the four-year statute of limitation for a wrongfully convicted person to file a grievance against prosecutorial misconduct to commence at the person’s release from prison, not at the time the offense occurred. Morton’s statutory legacy will help prevent innocent defendants from being convicted and imprisoned. But he paid a high price to serve as a catalyst for those safeguards to be enacted into law. MILES J. LE BLANC, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, is assistant general counsel to the Legal Services Department of the Houston Independent School District. His public-sector law career includes serving as an assistant district attorney in Taylor County; a law clerk for Judge Jorge A. Solis of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; an assistant attorney general in the General Litigation, Consumer Protection, and Administrative Law divisions of the Office of the Texas Attorney General; and in-house legal counsel to the University of Houston and Houston Community College.
Published by State Bar of Texas. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://mydigimag.rrd.com/article/Books/1916012/243822/article.html.