This weekend, the Houston Cinema Arts Festival was held in venues all around the downtown area with the Museum of Fine Arts Houston at its center; in its final session last night the festival screened An Unreal Dream, the story about Michael Morton, who was wrongly convicted of his wife's murder in 1986 and then trapped in the Texas prison system for 25 years while our corrupt judicial system allowed the prosecutor and his successor to block efforts to free him. Last week, that corrupt prosecutor, Ken Anderson, plead guilty to willfully withholding evidence; previously his successor, who had aided in the corruption, lost his bid for re-election as prosecutor. Anderson got a brief jail sentence; however, he will be disbarred, the first time in US history that a prosecutor has been held accountable and jailed for withholding evidence.
The real tragedy was that the real killer stayed free for 25 years, allowing him to kill at least one other victim. Using DNA evidence that had been concealed for 25 years, the real murderer, Mark Norwood, was identified and arrested. He was convicted for Christine Morton's murder earlier this year and was indicted for the murder of another woman, Debra Masters Baker. Had Anderson and the Wiliamson County sheriff not focused so myopically on Morton, perhaps Baker's murder could have been avoided. The evidence withheld in the Morton case included an eye witness account of Morton's own young son, who described to the sheriff a monster with a big mustache and "red hands". Of note is that Norwood has a huge mustache, and had beaten Christine Morton to a bloody mass with a club, hence the red hands.
By happenstance last night, we were seated directly behind the Morton family, including Morton, his new wife and his son, Eric, now grown and married, who was seeing the film for the first time. The emotion they experienced throughout the film was moving. A group discussion was held afterwards with Mimi Swartz from Texas Monthly moderating, and participants John Raley, the attorney who worked for 6 years for pro bono, Michael Morton, and Al Reinert, the director who made the film. Morton has become the face of criminal justice reform. He is forgiving, gracious, and peaceful after his ordeal. He even encouraged Anderson's prosecutors and judge to be lenient on Anderson for his misconduct; I'm not sure I could have done the same. The film is a powerful story of pain, injustice, redemption, and reconciliation; it will be broadcast by CNN throughout the month of December.
During May of this year, in a rare showing of bi-partisanship, the Texas State Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, the Michael Morton Act, which requires prosecutors to disclose all evidence obtained during criminal investigations to the defendant. I thought this was already the case; shockingly, at least in Texas, prosecutors in each Texas county were allowed discretion as to what to disclose. No longer.
Here's the trailer for the film. I highly recommend it.