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Corrupt, Life-Destroying Prosecutor Gets 10 Days in Jail

In what may be the first time in the nation’s history, a prosecutor who deliberately withheld evidence and sent an innocent man to prison is going to spend time in jail. How much time? Ten days. After sending an innocent man to prison for 25 years for a crime the prosecutor knew he didn’t commit.

Today in Texas, former prosecutor and judge Ken Anderson pled guilty to intentionally failing to disclose evidence in a case that sent an innocent man, Michael Morton, to prison for the murder of his wife. When trying the case as a prosecutor, Anderson possessed evidence that may have cleared Morton, including statements from the crime’s only eyewitness that Morton wasn’t the culprit. Anderson sat on this evidence, and then watched Morton get convicted. While Morton remained in prison for the next 25 years, Anderson’s career flourished, and he eventually became a judge.

In today’s deal, Anderson pled to criminal contempt, and will have to give up his law license, perform 500 hours of community service, and spend 10 days in jail. Anderson had already resigned in September from his position on the Texas bench.

What makes today’s plea newsworthy is not that Anderson engaged in misconduct that sent an innocent man to prison. Indeed, while most prosecutors and police officers are ethical and take their constitutional obligations seriously, government misconduct–including disclosure breaches known as Brady violations–occurs so frequently that it has become one of the chief causes of wrongful conviction.

What’s newsworthy and novel about today’s plea is that a prosecutor was actually punishedin a meaningful way for his transgressions.

Prosecutors are always telling us that criminals must be punished harshly in order to deter them, so here’s an idea: Anderson should go to prison for the exact same amount of time Morton spent there, 25 years. He is a criminal. He destroyed another man’s life. And the punishment here should serve as a stark warning to other prosecutors and make them think twice next time they are tempted to withhold evidence. What do you suppose the chances of such deterrence now?

Comments

  1. says

    Anderson should go to prison for the exact same amount of time Morton spent there, 25 years.”

    No. Not unless the punishment for stealing a $1 chocolate bar is $1.

  2. colnago80 says

    To quote the late and unlamented Dominick Donne, even though the miscreant was innocent of the crime in question, he was probably guilty of other crimes for which there was either insufficient evidence or for which he was not a person of interest.

  3. cswella says

    So what would my punishment be for this:

    I come across a dead body and plant some evidence to put a person I don’t like at the scene. That person ends up going to jail for the murder.

    Isn’t that essentially what happened?

  4. says

    cswella “I come across a dead body and plant some evidence to put a person I don’t like at the scene. That person ends up going to jail for the murder. Isn’t that essentially what happened?”
    Well, sure, it sounds bad when you put it like that, but it’s more like you come across a dead body, remove evidence that person X did not do it, then prosecute that same person for doing it, putting him away for two and a half decades so that you can get that promotion.
    Now doesn’t that sound better?

  5. says

    But surely, he’s suffered enough already. At least, that’s what we’re always told when a member of the elite gets in trouble for something.

  6. Thumper: Token Breeder says

    He deliberately sent an innocent man to jail for 25 years and he gets 10 fucking days?

    That is completely and utterly fucked.

    Not to mention how difficult it must be to be falsely imprisoned on top of the fact your wife has just been killed. Anderson should get additional punishment for inflicting that trauma.

  7. eric says

    Anderson should go to prison for the exact same amount of time Morton spent there, 25 years. He is a criminal.

    No, that seems far more like revenge than justice. The right thing to do is to define the crime, and determine the appropriate punishment for that crime. As modus alludes to with the chocolate bar case.

    I come across a dead body and plant some evidence to put a person I don’t like at the scene. That person ends up going to jail for the murder.

    Isn’t that essentially what happened?

    Personally, I’d say the crime should be treated this way: when a prosecutor intentionally witholds evidence of innocence that they are legally required to reveal, they are committing attempted kidnapping. When they win and the guy goes to jail, its committing kidnapping. After all, they caused someone innocent to be held in a small cell for years against their will; the difference between this and typical kidnapping is merely that they got the state to watch the cell for them.

  8. says

    Personally, I’d say the crime should be treated this way: when a prosecutor intentionally witholds evidence of innocence that they are legally required to reveal, they are committing attempted kidnapping. When they win and the guy goes to jail, its committing kidnapping. After all, they caused someone innocent to be held in a small cell for years against their will; the difference between this and typical kidnapping is merely that they got the state to watch the cell for them.

    I think it could also be seen as an accessory/accomplice after the fact or something like that. Aside from unjustly imprisoning an innocent against their will, they’re tampering with the analysis of the evidence, guiding the justice system to the wrong conclusion, and thus helping the real culprit evade justice.

    That’s one reason why I see the whole prosecution-biased “hard on crime” culture as being soft on crime on top of their well-covered callous disregard for human rights.

  9. says

    Not to mention how difficult it must be to be falsely imprisoned on top of the fact your wife has just been killed. Anderson should get additional punishment for inflicting that trauma.

    Not to mention that by doing this, he knowingly abetted the real murderer to escape.

  10. says

    Betcha his 500 hours of community service will involve doing something at his local church he already was doing anyway.

    Cases like this are a good counter to anyone that says you don’t have to worry about the legal system or intelligence agencies doing this or that unless you’ve got something to hide.

  11. eric says

    That’s one reason why I see the whole prosecution-biased “hard on crime” culture as being soft on crime on top of their well-covered callous disregard for human rights.

    I agree. The goal is not so much “even-handed and highly punitive,” but rather “Russian-style” justice: create huge penalties for most anything on the books, the enforce it arbitrarily. In essence, a system in which the state can nearly always punish anyone it wants for something, but chooses not to so long as you go along with what they say.

  12. doublereed says

    No, that seems far more like revenge than justice. The right thing to do is to define the crime, and determine the appropriate punishment for that crime. As modus alludes to with the chocolate bar case.

    He’s parodying the idea of “deterrents.” He is not serious.

  13. says

    Not to mention that by doing this, he knowingly abetted the real murderer to escape.

    It’s even worse. The real murderer committed another, nearly identical murder two years later.

    I don’t know if they would have had the evidence at the time to identify and convict the real murderer (the DNA testing was done years later), but if so, this corrupt prosecutor not only ruined the life of an innocent man, he helped kill another woman.

  14. says

    The goal is not so much “even-handed and highly punitive,” but rather “Russian-style” justice: create huge penalties for most anything on the books, the enforce it arbitrarily.

    I think this is correct, but I’d add that there’s a strong undercurrent of class warfare to the whole thing. The victims of the justice system tend overwhelmingly to be poor and minority (though Morton was white), and this is a major reason why middle-class white America is so willing to go along with it. It’s something that happens to them, and they probably brought it on themselves.

    For similar reasons, mainstream society has almost no enthusiasm for prosecuting white-collar crime, or to pick a random example, a powerful judge who as a prosecutor committed gross misconduct, and who predictably gets a slap on the wrist.

  15. caseloweraz says

    “But you who philosophize disgrace,
    And criticize all fears:
    Bury the rag deep in your face;
    Now is the time for your tears.”

    Still relevant.

  16. eric says

    how can we go about changing the laws that allow this to happen?

    Such crimes will need a prosecuting attorney to argue for the charge, and a judge willing to rule that a member of the judicial branch can go to jail for basically just lying on the job – with all that that implies for judges. I think it may be asking too much of even good, honest attorneys and judges to do such things without some unconscious biases slipping in. I hate to say it, but if you are looking for criminal penalties, then crimes like this probably need something like mandatory minimum sentences.

    The other option is for the ABA (rather than the judicial system) to do something about it. As in: get found guilty of such behavior, automatically get disbarred. But frankly I don’t see that happening for the exact same reasons mentioned above – its so counter to their communities’ self-interest, we probably can’t expect even the (majority of) good, honest lawyers to support it.

  17. says

    doublereed “He’s parodying the idea of ‘deterrents.’ He is not serious.”
    I wasn’t, and I was. When you steal something worth a dollar, the fine isn’t the equivalent of a dollar. It’s more than a dollar. He stole 25 years of someone else’s life. Ergo, he shouldn’t get the same (and he certainly shouldn’t get less), he should get more.

  18. sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d says

    Deterrence is a myth.

    This is just the kind of case to test that, Dugglebogey. Anderson had a man he knew to be not guilty locked up for twenty five years to further his own career. It was a calculated decision with foreseeable consequences. If there ever was a case for strict punishment to deter others from doing likewise, this is it.
    There’s another question: given Anderson’s behaviour in this case, wouldn’t every prisoner prosecuted and convicted by him or tried and sentenced by him have a case for appealing against their punishment? At the least, it is now a reasonable presupposition that if Anderson was dishonest here he was invariably dishonest except where he can be conclusively shown not to have been dishonest. He may face a great many sentences of ten days’ gaol in the future.

  19. smrnda says

    @AreaMan

    I get you. If a white, middle class person goes to jail for say, a year or two and then gets cleared, it’s a huge story. It’s a huge story if they got sent to jail AT ALL.

    On the idea of an appropriate punishment, those who are charged with upholding laws should be held to a higher standard when they fail. Life in prison, no parole is my vote on any case of misconduct leading to a false conviction, mostly since it’s safe to assume that a prosecutor who frames 1 person has probably framed more.

  20. Abby Normal says

    If the 10 days is in general population at a super-max prison it might actually be a bit on the harsh side.

  21. hotshoe, now with more boltcutters says

    I’d be perfectly happy if it turned out he never left jail alive. And it’s fine with me if they have to carry him out within 10 days …

  22. Lyle says

    @justawriter #10. Texas Monthly has some fantastic journalism in it. It almost makes up for 3/4th of the magazine being advertising.

  23. Ichthyic says

    There’s another question: given Anderson’s behaviour in this case, wouldn’t every prisoner prosecuted and convicted by him or tried and sentenced by him have a case for appealing against their punishment?

    yup.

    should be VERY messy, and likely will be pushed by individual defense lawyers.

    any sane judge will want to simply expedite this by either releasing the prisoners involved, or else calling for an immediate retrial.

    it will indeed be interesting to see what happens.

    IMO, this asswipe should not only have been criminally charged, but ALSO civilly charged in federal court for rights violations. AND after that trial was done, be responsible for court costs associated with any cases of his that need to be retried.

    now THAT would be a fucking deterrent.

  24. Matrim says

    I’ve always been of the opinion that those charged with enforcing and carrying out justice should be held to higher standards than everyone else, that if someone abuses the MASSIVE responsibility and the power we allow them to use to exercise that responsibility, they should face extraordinarily harsh consequences. Prosecutorial corruption of this level should carry a sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors, judges, and police are given the power to strip us of nearly everything we have, up to and including our lives in some circumstances, they should know that this power comes with a caveat: that if they abuse it the will face penalties harsher than those the average citizen would face.

  25. Ichthyic says

    ^^agreed, but then, we would have an even SMALLER selection of individuals to choose from to represent us in these roles.

    in the end, what would fix this properly is for people who actually really feel that responsibility to perform these tasks, instead of leaving it to others to do for them.

    it’s the tasks we are unwilling to do ourselves that inevitably become the playground for those with a lust for power and money.

    want real change? get involved yourself at least in some level of your own governance.

    it’s the only way.

    you can try to enshrine good values into law, but if you leave it to criminals to decide FOR you, they will write the laws with loopholes for themselves.

    they always do.

  26. TxSkeptic says

    10 days can be a looooong time when spent among the population Anderson sent to prison. Justice should dictate 25 yrs or more, but the prison population may make his 10 days feel like 25 yrs.

  27. says

    Ichthyic “it’s the tasks we are unwilling to do ourselves that inevitably become the playground for those with a lust for power and money. want real change? get involved yourself at least in some level of your own governance.”
    What if we’re crooked?*

     
    * I’m just asking. For a friend.

  28. corporal klinger says

    Please don’t take this as nationalistic bullshit or condescention; I’am very aware of the flaws of my european nation and I take no pleasure in the suffering of my fellow humans. This being said, there is not a day that I’am not happy that I wasn’t born in the U.S., that I don’t have to nor will I ever have to live or go there.
    Every other nation with a justice system like your’s, the weapons madness, religious fascists and failed educational system, is considered a failed state.

  29. Ichthyic says

    What if we’re crooked?*

    well, technically the point would be that you would be outnumbered for the job.

    but really, you already know the answer.

    :)

  30. doublereed says

    Please don’t take this as nationalistic bullshit or condescention; I’am very aware of the flaws of my european nation and I take no pleasure in the suffering of my fellow humans. This being said, there is not a day that I’am not happy that I wasn’t born in the U.S., that I don’t have to nor will I ever have to live or go there.
    Every other nation with a justice system like your’s, the weapons madness, religious fascists and failed educational system, is considered a failed state.

    America is far larger and more populous than any country in Europe. Like any country, there are good parts and bad parts. A lot of what you’re complaining about are in certain areas of the country.

  31. left0ver1under says

    Judges, prosecutors, cops and their like are supposed to know and uphold the law. They should know the law better than the average citizen or a criminal, know right from wrong. So why are they held to a lower standard than citizens and criminals when committing crimes themselves? If anything, they should be held to a higher standard, and receive tougher sentences than those they prosecute, whether that be longer prison sentences or execution in the case of life sentences attained through corrupt trials.

    There are at least ten people “executed” in the US that lawyers, judges, cops and/or government officials knew were innocent. They allowed innocent people to be killed for the benefit of their careers. Anderson isn’t a new instance, just the latest and one of the few to actually face any culpability for his actions.

    http://listverse.com/2010/01/12/10-convicts-presumed-innocent-after-execution/

  32. John Phillips, FCD says

    doublered #34, your ‘certain areas’ comment doesn’t exactly fill me with much confidence about your legal system. For reading people like Radley Balko, who’s articles Ed regularly posts about, among others as well as the many cases from the Innocence Project,, those certain areas appears to cover most of the US.

  33. Doug Little says

    Anderson should go to prison for the exact same amount of time Morton spent there, 25 years. He is a criminal. He destroyed another man’s life. And the punishment here should serve as a stark warning to other prosecutors and make them think twice next time they are tempted to withhold evidence

    I’ve been saying this for years, the same should apply to capital punishment cases.

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