A name you won’t find on the ballot in Williamson County is Michael Morton. Still, he has become a critical campaign point in the GOP race for district attorney.
Accusations about Morton’s wrongful conviction have bounced between incumbent DA John Bradley – who, for five years, opposed DNA testing that eventually freed Morton – and County Attorney Jana Duty. The case is hard to ignore in this tough-on-crime county.
Duty has focused her campaign on Morton’s story, casting her opponent as someone who covered for his boss to maintain his own climbing career.
Bradley has fought back, defending himself and pointing out that Duty had a hand in the Morton case, too – that she is using the story to gain political traction.
Morton went to prison for nearly 25 years for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. However, last year, he was exonerated after DNA on a bandana near the murder scene revealed a connection to another man – Mark Alan Norwood.
Norwood’s DNA also matched material found at the scene of the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin. Last year, he was arrested and charged with Christine Morton’s death.
Morton’s lawyers have said that, if Bradley had agreed to DNA testing sooner, their client could have gone free sooner and the true murder suspect could have been arrested earlier.
Duty has won the support of people like Caitlin Baker – the daughter of the Austin murder victim – and also Mark Landrum, who served as the jury foreman in Morton’s 1987 trial.
As Bradley points out, Duty did have a role in the Morton case. As part of her duty as county attorney, she successfully defended Bradley and the sheriff when Morton filed a federal lawsuit against them to grant the DNA testing.
She has since argued her role dealt only with whether a state court or federal court should hear the case – the jurisdiction.
Bradley has said he learned from the controversy, adding that he has worked to give defense lawyers better access to prosecutor’s files – something that could have brought evidence like the bandana to light sooner.
He has the endorsement of Gov. Rick Perry, who once appointed him to head up the Texas Forensic Science Commission – a position that brought its own set of controversies.
The winner of this race will later face Democrat Ken Crain, a lawyer in Georgetown.