For those unaware of the Michael Morton case, he was exonerated late last year after serving 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit.  I can’t help but notice the similarities in the two cases and I wanted to share my observations.  Morton’s wife, Christine was found bludgeoned to death in their home, much like Michelle Young.  Their 3 year old son was in the home unharmed, there was no sign of forced entry and the couple had recently been arguing over not enough sex in the marriage.

Morton became a suspect immediately, even though he went to work at his normal time and appeared to be fine.  The prosecutor built him up to be a monster and relentlessly attacked his character, much like the prosecutors did to Jason Young.  They also downplayed evidence at the scene.  A footprint was found near a fence behind the yard but it was ignored.  Unidentified fingerprints were found at the scene, but they were also ignored.  Sound familiar?

The Morton case has been in the national spotlight recently because after the Innocence Project finally convinced a judge (after 6 long years) to allow them to have DNA testing performed on a bandana found near the murder scene, it proved that someone else was responsible for the murder.  The blood on the bandana was Christine Morton’s and the other DNA matched Mark Alan Norwood.  He was recently indicted for the murder. The evidence finally cleared Michael Morton after too many years.  He missed out on raising his son.

It has also been revealed that the prosecutor at the time withheld exculpatory evidence that could have prevented Morton from ever being convicted.  Their 3 year old son told family members that his father was not home when his mother was attacked and checks were cashed two weeks after the murder from Christine’s stolen purse.  Neither of these facts were known until recently.

The jurors are now filled with guilt and sadness that they put an innocent man behind bars.  I want to share a two piece article on the case so you can see the striking similarities to the Jason Young case.  I’m not suggesting that prosecutors withheld evidence in the Young case, but it was clear that character assassination was a large part of the case as well as the downplaying of clear evidence (fingerprints and footprints) that pointed away from Young, very much like the Morton case.

Until proven innocent — Part 1: The investigation

By ANDREW McLEMORE

In April 1987, less than two months after a jury sentenced him to life in prison, 32-year-old Michael Morton wrote a letter begging for the right to see his son. His wife had been murdered nine months before and nearly everyone believed him guilty — possibly even the sister-in-law who would raise his parentless 3-year-old.

Judge William Lott presided over Morton’s murder trial and would now pass judgment on whether the father convicted of beating his wife to death would ever get to see Eric again. Morton couldn’t write from his home in southwest Williamson County. He had to use his new address and the prisoner identification number provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Michael Morton, #445394, Wynne Unit, Huntsville.

When the jury read the guilty verdict, his knees buckled and there was little sound in the courtroom but his sobbing and protests of innocence before Judge Lott. He’d lost faith in “a lot of things,” he said after the conviction. He’d already lost his wife. Now everything else would be taken from him. “I’m about to lose my son, our house, her car, my job, all of our money… my freedom.”

With so little hope left, he made a last-ditch effort to convince the judge he was an innocent man who deserved time with his son. He hadn’t seen Eric since the conclusion of the trial and the beginning of his life sentence. “Sooner or later, the truth will come out,” Morton wrote. “The killer will be caught and this nightmare will be over. I pray that the Sheriff’s Office keeps an open mind. It is no sin to admit a mistake… I don’t know what else to say except, ‘I swear to God, that I did NOT kill my wife. Please, don’t take my son from me, too.’”

The rest of the article can be read here.

Until proven innocent — Part 2: The Trial

By ANDREW McLEMORE

Things got hard when Eric was born.  He was delivered through a C-section and just hours later doctors had to perform surgery because his esophagus didn’t go all the way to his stomach. The newborn spent three weeks at Seton Hospital. He was later diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. He had to have medication every six hours. As he grew, Michael and Christine Morton noticed he didn’t have the energy of the other kids. He would turn blue unexpectedly, alarming his parents. Michael and Christine did everything they could to keep Eric alive until he was three years old, when doctors said his chances of survival would be much greater. The stress took its toll on them, and they argued more frequently.

“We were very verbal,” Michael said in 1987. “If something disturbed her, she would just tell me straight out, and I would do the same. We discussed, argued, bickered, and went over everything like that. Nothing stayed below the surface for very long.” The only time he hit her in seven years of marriage was shortly after their newborn was released from the hospital.  The couple was arguing and she picked up Eric from the crib so quickly that “he quivered” and Michael, fearful for him, slapped her. “It shocked me as much as it did her,” he said. They immediately sat down and talked about it. He never struck her again, he said.

But there were still problems. He nagged Christine about her weight and complained about their lagging sex life, which began after Eric was born. Christine was having trouble, too. She’d wanted so badly to have a baby and now Eric was in danger a year after a miscarriage. In June of 1986, Eric turned three years old while in the Heart Institute in Houston. Michael used all his vacation leave from Safeway to spend three weeks with Christine and his son before Eric went under the knife for potentially life-changing heart surgery. “We obviously spent all of our time we could with him,” Michael said. Christine’s best friend Holly Gersky still remembers the moment she visited the hospital after Eric’s surgery. It’s her favorite memory of Christine. She walked in and saw her holding him. “I looked at her and she was just beaming. He was so healthy looking. She loved that little boy so much. The love that she had for him was incredible.”  Eric came home in the fourth week of June. Almost immediately, he was running around. Michael and Christine noticed he wasn’t turning blue anymore. Their little boy was going to be okay. For the first time in Michael and Christine’s life, their son was healthy and strong.

But the long-awaited end to the family’s struggle was short-lived. Less than two months later, Christine was murdered in bed. Police arrested Michael and charged him with the crime.

The rest of the article can be read here.

I wanted to share the articles because they highlight the fact that this has been going on for a very long time.  It’s easy for prosecutors to build up a case against people by taking the smallest incident and blowing it completely out of proportion.  By the end of the trial, the jurors hate the defendant and I wonder if by that point it’s even possible for many of them to view the evidence objectively.

The Morton case had stronger evidence than the Young case.  They had a ME presenting evidence of time of death that placed Morton at the scene.  We now know this was inaccurate and even though the defense expert presented a counter opinion on the time of death, the jury believed the State witness.  They simply couldn’t accept that this could have been a random crime.

The prosecutors in the Young case presented nothing to prove that Jason Young committed the murder.  He, like Morton was convicted because “this couldn’t have been a random crime”.  The Morton case shows that yes, sometimes it is indeed a random crime and for that reason, we must demand proof.

Link to article on the Jason Young conviction.

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