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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story
Aired December 28, 2013 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL MORTON, WRONGFULLY CONVICTED OF MURDER: This is the room where my life changed. It's where I got convicted of murder. I didn't really think that I had any issues with this place having a bad vibe or evil mojo. But it's hitting me a little harder than I expected.
I met Chris at Stephen F. Austin State University. We were taking a psych class. And she was talking to my roommate. And what caught my eye is he was feeding her a line, and she saw right through him immediately. I thought, she's pretty sharp, I want to get to know her.
Chris had this amazing laugh. She would throw her head back and laugh. It was just so genuine. And you couldn't help but laugh with her. She was smart. She wasn't just sociable. She had a head on her shoulders. Everybody liked her. She could be and she was completely independent without me. And I was lucky that she went out with me.
Nobody has a perfect marriage. There were things that I'm sure I profoundly disappointed her in and there were things that I was disappointed in her. But there was nobody -- there was nobody that I would rather spend my life with.
When Eric was born, Chris changed. I didn't see the change in me coming, but when I saw him, everything changed.
Every parent has that chemical reaction that happens inside when they have a child. Beforehand, you're the center of your universe. And afterwards, your child is. Because he was ill, because he had heart disease, that was magnified.
Eric had his surgery when he was 3 years old. That was one of the two targets, either 3 years old or 30 pounds. And so he was real small. You know, a 3-year-old kid. If you can imagine the size of a 3-year- old, and then scale that down to how big the heart is at that age, that's a small little complex muscle that they're messing with. It was a big deal. But it came out really, really well.
August 12th, 1986, I turned 32. And it was one of the best days of my life. We had had three dark years where we had a sick child. And everything seemed to be heading up. So we all went to the city grill. And I remember feeling really, really good as we were leaving because we were crossing the street, and Eric was walking between us, and we each had a hand. And how you'd pick him up and then it just -- it just felt really good. This is what it's about. This is -- things are great here.
And we got home. And finally got Eric to bed. And if you're married and it's your birthday -- she fell asleep.
I left a little note. No big deal. This happens. You know, you left me hanging there. You know how you'd feel. I remember she woke me up sometime that night, you know, she kissed me. She said tomorrow, baby. Yes, yes, got to go to work. Let's lay back down.
And 5:00 next morning, the alarm went off. And I showered, shaved, dressed. And it was the last time I saw her alive.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A Southwest Williamson County neighborhood is stunned tonight by the murder of one of its residents. The young woman was discovered dead when a friend responded to cries for help.
Police reporter Jim McNabb has that story.
JIM MCNABB, POLICE REPORTER: Violence has poured the Forest North Estate. Murders don't happen here, but early this afternoon, 31-year- old Chris Morton was found dead in her home's master bedroom.
MORTON: It was like a movie. The big yellow crime scene ribbons all around my house. Cop cars everywhere.
JIM BOUTWELL, WILLIAMSON COUNTY SHERIFF: It was discovered by a neighbor, who found this mother and child outside the house.
MORTON: When Sheriff Boutwell told me that Chris was dead, I asked if it was murder. He said yes. I asked to see her, I wanted -- not proof, but, you know, I needed to see her. And the sheriff refused.
MCNABB: Neighbors said the family had gone out to eat last night. It was Michael Morton's birthday. Morton was at work for a grocery store chain when he heard his wife was dead. An autopsy will determine the exact cause of death, but she is said to have suffered some type of head injury.
Sheriff Boutwell was waiting on tests from the Department of Public Safety and also the autopsy before making any more public comment in connection with the case. But the neighbors here are certainly talking quietly among themselves tonight and worried about their families.
MORTON: It's too overwhelming for tears or anguish. It's just complete -- it's like you physiologically don't know how to respond.
STEPHANIE WILLIAMS, NEWS ANCHOR: Topping the news, a brutal slaying in Williamson County has investigators puzzled. BOB KARSTENS, NEWS ANCHOR: Today's autopsy report conflicts with findings obtained at the scene of yesterday's murder. Sheriff's officers refused to talk in detail about the discrepancies, but they say they deal with the time of the murder. A possible suspect is being questioned about the slaying tonight.
MORTON: I didn't really see them as overly confrontational. I didn't really see them like they were accusatory. They were just doing what they had to do to eliminate me as a suspect. It was only in hindsight that I could see -- I really recognized that for whatever reason, Boutwell had made the decision that I was the suspect.
BILL ALLISON, TRIAL LAWYER: Sometime shortly after Christine's murder, which was on August 13th, 1986, Michael just came into our law office. He felt uncomfortable enough with the pressure that he needed some advice.
MORTON: He said people think that if you just tell the truth, you've got nothing to fear from the police. If you just stick to it that, you know, the system will work, it will all come to light, everything will be fine.
ALLISON: Michael came in and laid out a very simple case. I did not do this. I don't know who did it. I've cooperated with them. And I don't have any -- I can't do anything else. I'm out of ideas. What do I do?
MORTON: You get the sense that you're at these people's mercy. And you hope to God they know what they're doing.
DICK ELLIS, NEWS ANCHOR: Almost from the very beginning of the investigation, authorities seem to be homing in on a specific suspect. Tonight, that man is in jail.
MORTON: Boutwell knocked on the door, and he told me he was there to arrest me. And I don't remember the exact words, but I said something along the lines of, "You've got to be kidding. What?" To me, it was just so ludicrous. I turned off some stuff in the kitchen, I grabbed Eric and I told him I wanted to call a friend to come and get him.
And he said that wouldn't be necessary. He had already arranged for some neighbors to take my son. And I didn't want him to go to those particular neighbors, but they pulled him out of my arms and his arms are outstretched. He's calling my -- you know, calling to me. They're handcuffing me. Like oh, crap.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Morton became the target of the investigation because of a set of circumstances. For instance, there was the autopsy. It said Chris Morton died of at least eight bullets to the head around 1:00 a.m. August 13th long before her husband said he'd left for work.
SGT. DON WOOD, WILLIAMSON COUNTY SHERIFF: It's a long, intensive investigation. Doing the work that had been done and the ultimate results, it gives us a good feeling.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're confident?
WOOD: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why are you confident?
WOOD: We have a good case.
MORTON: As an innocent man, I was almost worthless to my attorneys. Because I didn't know what had happened. I didn't know what to tell them. And so they couldn't prepare a defense because they didn't know where the prosecutor was going to be coming from.
ALLISON: Michael was a little overwhelmed by the situation that he found himself in that -- but he -- but he was not very evocative. He didn't speak a lot.
LOU BRYAN, JUROR: I guess I kept looking at Michael and just noticing that he just didn't seem to have a lot of feeling about him. I guess I kept looking for some emotion that would let me know something about, you know, what was going on.
ALLISON: Michael had an amazing capacity to compartmentalize things, so that he didn't bring his grief into the -- into the office. I don't know what he did with it.
MORTON: I didn't think I was going to get convicted. It was going to be a long-ish trial, but then it would be revealed that there can be no there there. There's nothing to convict. There's nothing hard. There's nothing that says look, this guy did it. There's nothing beyond a reasonable doubt. And I couldn't imagine what could possibly be manufactured to make 12 people think that I killed my wife.
ALLISON: Ken Anderson was the prosecutor, the -- the elected district attorney in Williamson County at the time. The Morton case was the biggest case that Ken Anderson had been involved in.
MARK LANDRUM, JURY FOREMAN: District Attorney Anderson was somebody that we had seen and looked up to. He really ran the court. He ran the case. His timing was good. He just -- he came across as not only believable, but almost just, you know, just iconic in the room.
ALLISON: The lead investigator was Don Wood, who was on the witness list. And we thought Wood would take the stand. And that we would have the opportunity to cross him and when he was passed to us for cross-examination, we'd get his reports. They never called Don Wood.
Instead they called Sheriff Jon Boutwell to the stand. He didn't testify for very long. And he didn't really say that much.
Why were they being so careful with Woods? We didn't know.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: In other trial news, damaging testimony yesterday in the wife-beating murder trial of Michael Morton. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The jury relied on the testimony of the Travis County medical examiner Dr. Roberto Bayardo, who placed Morton's time of death at 1:15 that morning, before Michael left for work.
BRYAN: The medical testimony as far as time of death seemed to point out to me that she had to have died much earlier than the time that Michael was supposed to have gone to work.
ALLISON: We brought two medical examiners to the stand, Linda Norton from Dallas, who had done the exhumation on Lee Harvey Oswald, and Vincent DiMaio, the medical examiner in San Antonio.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Conflicting testimony in the murder trial of this man, Michael Morton. Today the Bexar County medical examiner took the stand, Dr. Vincent DiMaio said it isn't reliable to use tests on a stomach to fix the time of death.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A Williamson County man took the witness stand today in his own murder trial. Thirty-two-year-old Michael Morton is charged in the death of his 31-year-old wife Chris. Morton broke down in tears today as District Attorney Ken Anderson showed him photos of his wife's body.
ALLISON: Ken Anderson's theory of the case was the theory that it was Michael's birthday. Christine had refused to have sex with him that night. And he went into a homicidal rage and killed her.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Channel 7's Gary Dubley (ph) reports prosecutors say he beat his wife to death after she refused to have sex with him on his birthday.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The headline reveals the argument from the prosecution. District Attorney Ken Anderson today focused his line of questioning on Morton's infrequent sexual relationship with his wife.
ALLISON: Under Ken's theory at that point, then Michael masturbated over Christine's body as I guess some form of sexual release. We don't know what it was. But when he did that, he had tears coming down his eyes as he talked to the jury. It was really quite an effective performance.
MORTON: When I heard ken Anderson speaking to the jury or talking to witnesses, I was actually encouraged a little bit, because I -- in my mind, who couldn't see that these were nothing more than emotional pleas with no substance?
LANDRUM: It's not uncommon that in these kind of scenarios the husband did it. It's just -- those are those things that even though you pretend it's not there, it's got to be in the back of your mind somewhere.
ALLISON: He was the only suspect they had. And his -- the only thing he had to say about it was, it was somebody else, I don't know who it was. Somebody who was violent.
MORTON: I didn't see how any rational thinking person would say that's enough for a guilty verdict.
LANDRUM: There wasn't really a lot of deliberation. We all felt so strongly that this was justice for Christine and that we were doing the right thing.
BRYAN: I just don't think we had enough evidence that said he wasn't guilty. I mean, too many things pointed to him. And so there was no one else to suspect. I mean, how could she -- obviously died. Someone had to kill her. And he was the only one that was, you know, even brought up as far as being the suspect.
TONIA COOKE, NEWS ANCHOR: After seven days of testimony in Georgetown court, the trial of Michael Morton has come to an abrupt end tonight. Late this afternoon, a jury found Morton guilty of murdering his wife last summer, and then sentenced him to life in prison.
MORTON: I was stunned. It literally knocked the wind out of me. My knees buckled. My butt hit the chair. And had that chair not been there, I'd have hit the floor.
I did not do this.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm sorry, what?
MORTON: I did not do this.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Prosecuting attorneys say a key factor in the jury's decision was Morton's allegedly cold behavior in the courtroom.
KEN ANDERSON, WILLIAMSON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: There weren't any tears there. He was just acting like he had in the pretrial. Just totally without any remorse whatsoever for killing his wife.
ALLISON: If you put yourself in his position, it certainly seems unfair to be held accountable for not crying on cue or crying at the wrong time.
There's always a little bit of an attitude of relief from jurors. But this was, like, relief and almost jubilation. And I suppose that goes back to -- that they had taken Michael off the street. And they had rejected the only defense theory that we had that this was the act of some maniac who could walk into your house and kill you. By rejecting that, there is no maniac out there.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Despite his conviction, this may not be the last time we see Michael Morton in court. His attorneys say they will appeal the jury's finding. As for Morton, he'll be biding his time in a Texas prison.
MORTON: My first unit of assignment was the Wynne Unit. It's what we call an old red brick prison. It was rabbit (INAUDIBLE), twists and turns, and not built for optimal security. When I went to prison, a lot of stuff is immediate. I mean, you can't plan for the future. It's in your face. You deal with it right then. You can't be scared. You can't be worried. You can't say this is unfair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The courts sent you down here. They say you're men. Act like a man and you're going to be treated like a man.
MORTON: There are bigger things happening right then and right there. When I first got to Texas Penitentiary, the first thing they do is they strip you naked and search you. You're given a pair of state boxers. I realize the full gravity of the place because as I was standing in line to get my boots, I noticed a guy in front of me. I counted 13 stab wounds in his back. He had scars.
It really drove home for me how very serious the place was. That they weren't playing. There's no time to joke around. There was nothing funny about this. And everybody was deadly serious. And you'd better get your heart right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I first met Michael Morton on the diagnostics end. I saw a young guy who was lost. He looked like he was in shock. He was out of place. He'd never been locked up before. He'd never done time before.
MORTON: When I first got locked up, I was fortunate that I was up on three row.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on the third floor and I was on the first floor.
MORTON: A friend of mine was down on one row, three cells over, right in front of the day room. The day room has two TVs, both at full blast on different stations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you go to the day room, you get in trouble. You go to the day room, that's where the gambling is.
MORTON: Domino games going on where people are slamming dominos on that metal table, like a gong every time they do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's where the people are fighting over the TV. The idiot fringe hang out.
MORTON: There might be 85 guys in that day room. It's concrete floor with metal tables and metal benches and cinder block walls. Yelling at the TV because there's a basketball game on. There's this constant roar. Voices. Clanging doors. Public address system. You name it. It makes noise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At first, you're scared to death. And anybody that's been through that and say they're not, they're lying. You're scared to death. You're petrified. You're hearing keys rattle, doors slamming, people screaming. People crying. You hear guys getting raped. But the predators down there know who to rape. And who to leave alone.
MORTON: One of the toughest men I ever met was Richard King. That's my friend. Which at first kind of appalled my mother because I told her that some of the best people to be around were the murderers. RICHARD KING, INMATE, WYNNE UNIT: I was convicted in 1989 on a murder charge. And I got a life sentence.
MORTON: They usually don't steal from you. They're usually not drunks. They tend to be guys who had a single encounter with the law, but they're not your-run-of-the-mill convict. In theory, I fit in that category, too.
KING: When I knew Michael, he was not your typical inmate. You know, he always, you know, said he was innocent, and you hear that, you know, from quite a few. I'm not here -- you know, I didn't do that, you know. But in Mike's situation, you -- you know, I believed him.
ALLISON: I've never thought that Michael was anything but innocent. I don't -- I don't keep the files of all the cases that I've tried. I kept Michael's file. Michael's case was different. On almost every level, particularly an emotional level with me, and you can't afford to -- when you try criminal cases, you've got to leave a little bit of your own blood on the floor in front of the jury, or they will see through you.
But you can't afford to carry it around with you for very long. But I did with Michael. And it really got me down.
MORTON: Visitation is like oxygen. It's just -- it's such a breath of fresh air. You see normal people thinking normal things and saying normal things and doing normal stuff. They're a reminder of what the real world is.
Visitation was -- it is special for prisoners' children. And in my situation, there was court-ordered visitation every six months. Eric would have to be brought to me by my sister-in-law.
ERIC OLSON, MICHAEL'S SON: We went to check in outside the prison. And my aunt would come with me every time. Everybody else would wait outside. But my aunt would walk with me. We'd have to check in, and there was a big tower. And they would see us and buzz us in. We would walk through the chain link fence, and the gates and the guards.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was always Michael on one side of the table, Eric and the sister-in-law on the other side of the table. And she would just sit there and stare at Michael with just such hate and discontent. And just -- you know, and there's -- people are human. There's no telling what they were telling that kid.
MORTON: Because he was young, at first it wasn't so bad for him. I mean, I loved seeing him. But it was only every six months.
OLSON: I remember sometimes we would just sit and catch up. I mean, he would just ask me about what I was doing. My father wanted to know what sports I played or what I did. I was just a typical kid. So I remember we would sit at a picnic table outside.
MORTON: The first time I heard him call my sister-in-law "mom," it startled me. Now I knew that that was a good, normal, natural thing, but it was jarring at first. I could see him growing up and growing away from me.
OLSON: I grew up in west Houston. I was raised by my aunt. I went to the roller rink, I played Little League Baseball, I had lots of friends, sleepovers. Pretty normal. Normal childhood. Pretty plain and boring, almost. I mean, it was typical American suburban kid. Went to church, private school growing up. Played sports, had friends. Life was good.
I don't remember my friends looking at me any differently because of my life. I liked to think that my family kind of set a standard that we're not going to act differently because of what happened to my mother.
MORTON: With all the good things that a visit would usually bring, with him it was always bittersweet. I would love seeing him. I was just fascinated with his every move and question what he was doing and saying. But I could also see that he was becoming more distant. He was becoming less mine. He was becoming something of a stranger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just -- it was a sad situation. From just my observation. But you don't talk about that. That's one thing you don't do. After visitation day, you don't go back and talk about it. After visitation day, I've seen grown men cry like babies. I mean, two or three-time convicted murderers after a visit go back and hide in their cell and cry.
MORTON: I spent a good number of years plotting the early demise of a number of people that I felt were responsible for my incarceration. The loss of my life. My son. Everything.
KING: Oh, you could tell he was bitter. The shenanigans that the D.A., you know, pulled. And even the old sheriff that was there I think was a party to it also. You know, he said they never even looked for anybody else.
MORTON: I spent years working on different M.O.s. Plausible alibis. Techniques. I was going to put some heads on some sticks, metaphorically.
KING: Most everybody in here has a bitterness at some -- at some level. So it's not really -- some of them stand out a little bit more than others and -- and Mike was more of a reserved person. So, you know, you didn't -- you know, he didn't stand up and scream and holler about it.
MORTON: The whole process there that I wasn't a real happy guy. It was just literally weighing me down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was filled with hate and discontent, like most people are, when he first went down. He was very bitter. He had a reason to be.
MORTON: That sort of revenge and hate and anger is akin to drinking poison and hoping that other person dies from it. ALLISON: When I filed the appeal in the Third Court of Appeals, we had become absolutely convinced that there was -- that there was information in Don Wood's reports that had been withheld from us. We got no relief. I don't even know that we got an answer on that.
MORTON: If you spend any amount of time in the penitentiary, you see lots of fights. People getting their heads stomped in. Stabbings. Being assaulted with some kind of weapon, whether it's a pipe or a club or a homemade knife. It's not a relentlessly violent environment, but some fights are avoidable. Some aren't. I didn't get in a lot of fights. People try to avoid fights a lot. Almost all the time out here in the world.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't have to be a gang member in order to survive down there. A lot of people think you do. If you're weak, you're a gang member. If you're not, you do your time. All you have to do is stand up for yourself.
MORTON: Other people have to be convinced that anything that they do to you is going to be physically expensive. It's going to be very costly. You will be able to get back at them. Because there's nowhere to hide in penitentiary. Everybody goes asleep sooner or later. I don't care how big you are, how bad you are.
KING: Don't argue politics. Don't argue, talk religion. You know, and don't worry about what's on television. And you'll be OK. Because there's more fights over the television than anything else. Television, dominos, and basketball games.
MORTON: Those things were always the exception to the daily grinding monotony of the noise and the lack of privacy and the stupidity on both sides of the bars. I used to put ear plugs in and then put my radio headphones on and dial between stations where it was just static, white noise, and crank up the volume as loud as it could go so I could read a book.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember Michael talking about Christine. And his son. And his eyes would light up. He was -- he would talk about things they used to do. And it would pick him up.
OLSON: I remember from my childhood receiving letters from my father. It was kind of like the visits to prison. They were just a window into a life that never happened. It was a letter from a man that barely existed in my life. I didn't have memories of him outside of the visits to prison. So receiving letters in the mail, it was like receiving letters from somebody that didn't exist.
MORTON: As he got a little bit older, he started, you know, getting into puberty and becoming a teenager. Some of the visits were feeling a little forced.
OLSON: I think it was embarrassing for me to think that I had to go to jail to see my dad.
MORTON: While I was on the Wynne Unit, I got a letter from him that he said he would like to suspend the visits, not do them anymore.
OLSON: I don't remember how I made the decision to not visit my father. But I do remember the visit.
MORTON: And I thought about it. I kind of weighed the pros and cons and I wrote him back, and I said well, I'll grant your wish, but you've got to come here and look me in the eye and tell me that.
OLSON: I remember just like every other time, we waited in the waiting room. But I remember being much more nervous.
MORTON: We had our greetings and I asked him if this was our last visit.
OLSON: The only thing I remember him saying to me is -- he said, will this be the last time that I see you?
MORTON: And he wouldn't look me in the eye, but he looked at the floor and told me that yes, it's the last one.
OLSON: I could tell it was painful for my dad. I don't remember feeling the same pain.
MORTON: It was another one of those numb, painful things, and I just looked at my sister-in-law and said something like, take care of my son. And I walked out. It was like a two-minute visit. It should have been two hours.
On advice of one of the prisoner counselors, I tried to further my education and I got a bachelors in psychological. And that was intriguing because so many of the people inside seemed to be psych patients. So that had a little concrete immediate use. KING: We were on the Wynne Unit, for about 10 years together, then he graduated from Sam Houston through the college program and he went down to the Ramsey Unit for the masters program down there from the University of Houston.
MORTON: The Ramsey Unit's maybe 30 to 50 miles south of Houston. But it's about 30 or 50 years back on the calendar. It's an agricultural unit. I thought I was in pretty good shape when I went there. I'd been lifting weights and running for a number of years. I was 34 years old when I went to the field for the first time.
It just about killed me.
I can laugh now, but when you're new to it, it's real hot and humid down south. Imagine that it's August in Texas and there's no smell quite like walking past a cell block with several hundred men. The chow hall smells a certain way. That many people, those 2600, 3,000 in some of those units, they crank out a lot of garbage every day. It has a distinct aroma.
And the agricultural units like Ramsey I there could be livestock issues, but mainly it's the -- it's the scent of a large number of men in close proximity in a very humid climate in the heat of the summer.
No air conditioning. A fan if you've got the money to buy one. And the cell blocks aren't built for ventilation or comfort. They're built for utility and security. And it's a world of concrete and steel.
The clothes don't fit. The hair cuts are fine. The food sucks. And the company is usually not much better.
OLSON: When I turned 18 or around the time I went off to college, I became curious of what actually happened. I had always been told that my father had killed my mother, and he went to prison. But I still was curious as to what happened. Mostly why, why it happened.
We also had newspapers describing the murder. Articles from newspapers in Austin, the papers in Houston. And if I could read the newspapers that I could just move on from that part of my life. And I would no longer have to think about my father as the man who murdered my mother. So he didn't have to be a part of my life anymore.
MORTON: When my son turned 18, I got a letter that he was going to legally change his name and that he was going to be adopted by my sister-in-law and her husband. That I was going to officially and legally lose him.
OLSON: Honestly in my heart they became my parents. So it made sense to take his name.
MORTON: With all the bad things that had happened, my wife's murder, my arrest and conviction, my life sentence, all the deaths in my family, the failed appeals, the DNA snafus, all of that didn't do me in. I thought I was pretty tough and I could take it. But when I lost him, that's what broke me.
MORTON: I've never felt so empty, bankrupt, just completely at a loss, that I did something completely out of character, is I cried out to God. And when I did that, I got nothing. Silence. Aching, just dead nothing. Until about 10 days, a couple of weeks later, I don't know. It was a real average day in prison. It was gray, repetitive. I was in my cell and my cell partner was asleep and it was the usual time that I went to bed. It was just another routine day.
And I killed the TV, and I figured I would turn off the lamp, grab my headphones, put them on, (INAUDIBLE) on the radio dial couple of times, call it a night. And there's a classic station out of Houston I picked up. And something very unusual. I heard some harp music playing which I don't know I've ever heard on the radio before.
Without any sort of preamble, no premonition, no hint, just like that I was bathed in this wonderful, beautiful, golden light. I couldn't see anything but this golden light. And I knew without a doubt I didn't have to analyze it. I didn't have to ask the questions. I was in the presence of God. It was so exciting and affirming and encouraging. It was like you wanted to sing. It was just -- it's like nothing I'd ever experienced in my life.
It was pure bliss. I woke up listening to my alarm beep, beep, beep like it did every morning. I sat in my bunk, and everything was there. My headphones were hanging on the hook. I didn't remember doing that. My alarm was awfully set. I don't recall doing that. Our radio was turned off. And I was thinking about not what it was, because I knew what it was.
But why. Why would that happen? Why me? I'm not a prophet. I'm not a role model. I was just a guy in prison. And I came to realize that the simplest thing was that I'd cried out to God. I got nothing here. Show me something. And all that happened was I got an answer. He showed me something. I said my life changed in this room, in that prison cell on Ramsey one, my world changed.
BARRY SCHECK, INNOCENCE PROJECT: The innocence project is an independent nonprofit entity starting in 1988. My colleague Peter Newfeld and I became an expert in DNA testing and realized it had a chance to exonerate the wrongfully committed.
BILL ALLISON, MICHAEL MORTON'S ATTORNEY: The truth is that Barry and I had been talking about Michael Morton since the innocence project opened its doors in 1992.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And bill was one of those people who commands enormous respect across the country. And when he looks you in the eye kind of like that Sam Elliot character, you know, from "the big Lebowski" or something and says, Barry, I think Michael is innocent and I feel terrible about this. And I -- it's the most important case to me. You've got to help me. Of course we're going to help him.
NINA MORRISON, ATTORNEY: We began representing him in 2002 after his trial were a bailout and we have been representing him for free for many years after his conviction called us and asked us to take another look at the case for him. Because Bill thought that we might be able to bring something that he as a lawyer who was so close to the case couldn't do. And so we began our review of the case and took it on shortly after that.
JOHN RALEY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I got a call from the innocence project in early 2004, and I knew who they were and their reputation, so I was honored to receive a call from them. But I wondered why they were calling me.
SCHECK: And Hannah told us she had met this terrific lawyer that knew a lot about medical malpractice and medical issues and we should definitely try to involve him as a local lawyer in this matter and that was John Raley.
RALEY: Apparently they knew someone who had seen me try a medical malpractice case recently, and there were issues in the Morton case that had to do with scientific evidence and thought I might be useful. SCHECK: Little did we know we were getting somebody with real expertise in medical malpractice, but a passionate advocate, somebody whose brother and father were United States attorneys in Oklahoma, somebody who played football at Oklahoma and was a talented trial lawyer and a great human, you know. So that was good luck.
RALEY: I was honored to be part of that in any way I could. They asked me to take the case pro bono and to file a motion for DNA testing for Michael Morton and I did.
MORTON: After 2001 when I figuratively and literally saw the light, that changed everything. That experience may have just happened that one night, but the way I've come to interpret it or internalize it or accept it took awhile. I'm not accustomed to supernatural experiences. Took me awhile to kind of appreciate it or to understand it. Those three things that god exists and he is wise and that he loves me made me not really care a great deal whether or not I spent the rest of my life in there. So if I was going to get out, it was like if you want me out, get me out.
First time I met John Raley, I was on the Michael unit. We didn't have to talk through the glass. We sat down at a table. At one point John excused himself to go to the restroom and left his sports jacket folded up on the table. And it was -- it took every little bit of will power I had to not reach out just kind of touch it because it looked so soft and comfortable and it looked so good.
RALEY: I cross examine people for a living. I have a pretty good sense of when somebody's lying to me. Not always, but most of the time. There was nothing about this man that didn't speak to actual innocence. You could tell that everything he said came from a grounded level of integrity and honor. And I left amazingly moved by that. And I came home to my wife, Kelly, who I ask for advice on a lot of things. And I said, Kelly, my God. He's innocent. We have to get him out. And she looked at me in the eye and she said, then do it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of people residing within these walls. There's a lot of men on this unit and a lot of guys are liars and cheats and thieves and they want your information. They want your wife's address. And they want to look at your mail and write your people and say, hey, I'm a good friend of Steve's and, you know, he said put some money on my books and there's a lot of deception and liars. And a lot of men who were entrapped in bitterness and hatred in their lives and they blame you and these officers and these officials that put them here as they say evil place.
I've sat in the room and had men say I'm innocent, I'm innocent. And yet there's just something about them that says, you know, you're still hiding, you're still running, you're covering it up. You've said this lie so many times you believe it. But with Mike it was different. When he spoke to me, I'm innocent, I just believed him. I just believed him.
RALEY: There is no scientific basis for time and death based on stomach contents alone. All of the medical literature then and of course now says that. The doctor (INAUDIBLE) didn't see the body until it was too late to do a rigor mortis or liver mortis analysis. So he did this stomach contents analysis. And really, it was probably on the basis of that stomach contents junk science that Michael was convicted.
MORTON: From the autopsy were vaginal swabs, oral swabs, all the usual stuffing and clippings. And so, we were having those things tested thinking that will reveal the assailant. And so the results were all coming back negative, negative, negative.
RALEY: In February of 2005 we filed our first motion. And we sought DNA testing on the swabs from Christine's body. We asked for the bloody bandanna found a hundred yards behind the house along with what we always believed to be the escape route of the murderer to be DNA tested.
John Bradley was the district attorney of Williamson County at the time we filed the motion for DNA testing. So I called up Mr. Bradley and I introduced myself. And I tried to explain to him the logic of what we were doing, that we were only seeking the truth. And he said it would muddy the waters. That testing the DNA would muddy the waters. And I didn't understand what he meant. I said, Mr. Bradley, truth clarifies. Why oppose it? It makes no sense. But he continued to oppose it. He asked for several extensions in even responding to our motions. So months passed and more months passed as the courts granted him.
MORTON: One of the few, very few, benefits of being in the penitentiary is that you have time for almost endless self- examination. Reflection, meditation, call it whatever you want. You unfortunately get to review every word you've ever said, harsh and otherwise, people you've known, the things you've done. If you so choose, you can try to make your time there something of a monastic retreat. It's never easy, but those personal inventories rack up and rack up. And it can change you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This can be a cruel place. You can go for years without any provision, without deodorant. So you lay there and stink and sweat through 110 degrees in a metal building you live in for the rest of your life, you know. You've got your due punishment for your crime, OK. But there's some small things that men need to make them feel like at least you're real or you're human still. Even though you've been deemed a monster. Mike reached out to many, many men in ways that I don't see a lot of people do.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the things that mike always did, and that's when he went to commissary, he always ended up buying either moon pies or ice cream cones or something to be able to come back and to distribute to those guys that didn't have anything. Could you imagine living across or down the hall or wherever from a man that just comes in and he doesn't know you and you've never introduced yourself to him. Next thing you know there's an ice cream sitting on your bed and it's 110 degrees outside.
RALEY: On March 7th, 2008, we had a hearing before judge Stubberfield (ph). It was the first year and we would been able to have on the case. There was no hearing at all about our motion for DNA testing. He just ruled on that without a hearing.
I pointed out that we've now been fighting for three years to get this testing. And that Mr. Bradley fought us every step of the way. At the time I thought three years was a long time. But I told the court, and I'm quoting, "your honor, there is a blood stained bandanna that was found at the crime scene. It was found, taken into custody by the sheriff. It contained a hair. This bandanna may contain the blood of the victim Christine Morton. Plus perhaps mingled with the blood of the murder. But it may also contain skin cells, saliva, sweat, and there's also this hair that may contain the DNA of the murder. They've never been subjected to DNA testing."
MORRISON: I was very honest with the judges we were in front of. I would say, look, judge. We don't know if this bandanna is connected to the crime. It seems like a possibility given the fact it's a quiet, suburban neighborhood. It doesn't have a lot of violent crime going on. There's a bloody murder and then a hundred feet away there's a bandanna with somebody's blood on it. But sure, it could be from a construction worker. It could be from somebody who cut themselves on their way out of the house and throw out the bandanna. There's only one way to find out which is do a DNA test.
RALEY: It was just taking time, and Michael was in prison and he's innocent. We know he's innocent. So we sued John Bradley in federal court.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Michael Morton was convicted of killing his wife and sentenced to life in prison. His attorneys say the case now boils down to testing a bloody bandanna found behind the home where Christine Morton was beaten to death. If that critical piece of evidence contains blood from the crime scene, it could show someone else did it. But Williamson County D.A. John Bradley says that's a pipe dream.
JOHN BRADLEY, WILLIAMSON COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: If I got a promise from Michael Morton that he would accept criminal responsibility for killing his wife should the bandanna exclude any other mystery killer, you know what, I would consider doing that.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Well, the third court of appeals rules Morton can test the bloody bandanna, but that won't happen any time soon. The district attorney's office is appealing that decision.
RALEY: While we're waiting for the testing to be done by (INAUDIBLE). And they're in such demand that the queue is such a very long time. Michael in 2010 was offered parole. And I said that's great. And he said but the condition is I have to show remorse for my crime. And I thought, I can't advise him on this. I don't know what I would do. I might just say I'm really sorry, let me go.
MORTON: I didn't really necessarily make a deal with God that I wasn't going to lie to get out, but there was that -- that was there. I wasn't going to lie.
RALEY: I said what are you going to say, Michael. And he said, all I have left is my actual innocence. And if I have to be in prison the rest of my life, I'm not giving that up. And when I heard him say that, I felt this rush of emotion come over me. And I said, Michael, I promise you I will never quit, ever. As long as I'm breathing air, I'm trying to get you out of prison.
MORTON: He's not on anybody's payroll. I had no money to give him. After being publicly labeled and chastised and called a lot of names, it affects you when somebody does something like that to publicly broadcast good things about you. To say this is a -- to this day, he's my friend and he's my brother.
RALEY: Around this time during the whole workup, my co-counsel Nina Morrison with the Innocence Project sent a freedom of information act request for the sheriff's file. And what was found in that file was amazing.
ALLISON: There is a report from 11 days after Chris Morton was murdered. And it's a police report made by the chief investigator Don Wood. And it's a transcript of a conversation he has with Chris' mother Rita Kirkpatrick. The story that Rita tells to Don Wood about what Eric saw.
RALEY: And it describes in eerie detail the monster's here, what's he doing. He hit mommy. Mommy's crying. Is she still crying. No mommy stopped. The monster threw a blue suitcase on the bed. He's mad. A monster coming into the house. That's what Eric called the murder. And I think it's a great description. He said it was a big man with a big mustache. Did he have daddy's gun or mommy's purse? Yes. Those were the things that were stolen.
ALLISON: There is a critical question that Rita had the sense to ask Eric in that conversation, and that question was --
RALEY: Where was daddy, Eric? Was daddy there? No, mommy and Eric was there.
ALLISON: But coming from Rita Kirkpatrick, Chris' mother, talking about Eric talking about a monster with red hands and that person is clearly not Michael Morton is devastating to the state's case. And they sat on this information for 25 years. Don Wood says it. He said that Rita said you need to stop looking at Michael and go after the monster and we never heard that. And there was also a report from the first week of the investigation about a green van where a man would get out and go into the woods behind the house.
RALEY: Which is where they found the bandanna. He was casing the house. Before the murder. That was in their file in 1987. They knew.
SCHECK: Once we got the DNA results, I mean, "a," it was Christine Morton's blood, and "b," that it wasn't Michael's blood or skin cells I should say on the bandanna. None of his DNA. You know, that was terrific.
RALEY: The DNA of this other person was intermingled with Christine's DNA. It really places the bandanna at the murder scene.
MORRISON: So the next step was to work with the Texas state crime lab to get it entered into the database to see if it matched any convicted offender and unsolved crimes. Fortunately, there is now a vast database of DNA profiles from convicted offenders and unsolved crimes called CODIS which is a national database run by the FBI that all states participated. And any public crime lab can take a DNA profile and put it essentially in this big computer in the sky and within hours be able to tell if it matches one of eight million or more profiles in the system.
RALEY: And they got a direct hit on a man with a known record of felonies in three states including breaking and entering residences and assault with intent to murder and his name is Mark Alan Norwood.
MORRISON: We got the news that Norwood had been identified through the DNA database as the man whose DNA was on the bandanna almost 25 years to the day from when Christine was killed.
RALEY: We found out where he was living in Austin during the time of Christine's murder and for a few years after that. And a paralegal in our office Kay Canaby (ph) who was on the internet found the Austin cold cases, a woman bludgeoned to death and checked the location, and it was a block from where Norwood was living at the time. The woman's name was Deborah Jan Baker, and she was killed a couple years after Christine. Exactly the same way bludgeoned to death in her bed. A few after the hit on Deborah Jan Baker with the Norwood's hair in that murder scene was announced at court, John Bradley contacted Barry Scheck to discuss terms of Michael's release.
ERIC OLSON, MICHAEL MORTON'S SON: I received an e-mail from John Raley about a month before telling me my father was innocent and that there would be new evidence exonerating him and he would probably get out of jail. I was almost rude in my response. I shut the door. I didn't want anything to disrupt the life that I had. I felt like life was finally normal. I had a wife. I had a baby on the way. There was no room in my life for this. MORTON: When they came to get me to say pack it up, you got to go, I gave away almost everything I owned. And there were some handshakes and some hugs. As I was leaving, the guard was escorting me off, people started making noise and hollering good-byes and other profane statements of encouragement. And they started yelling and there was some fist pumping up in the air. And a couple of the guys were beating on the tables. And the guard got a little uneasy, he was like is this a riot or what. I looked on the second tier just remind at the faces of people yelling and cheering. And I never expected that. And I love those guys for that. It was just such a, man, such a sendoff, completely spontaneous. It was just the strangest thing and the most wonderful thing.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: After spending nearly 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife, a Williamson County man is now free due to re-test DNA.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: In 1986. He was sentenced to life in prison.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: Those attorneys have been working to prove Martin's innocence for years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: You guys tell us when you're ready with the cameras.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Make sure the agreement of the parties I have recommended released to the court of criminal appeals. You do have my sympathy. You have my apologies.
MORTON: I thank God this wasn't a capital case, that I only had life. That gave the saints at the Innocence Project time to do this.
PAT MORTON, MICHAEL MORTON'S MOTHER: I would like to say this is one of the happiest days of my life. And I thank God for it.
BILL MORTON, MICHAEL MORTON'S FATHER: We are so thankful the truth finally came out and we're happy, happy, happy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thank you all very much.
MORTON: It was somewhat chaotic. There was a procession. Cameras everywhere. People everywhere. I didn't know which way we were going.
RALEY: All of this time rushed back at me. My time of only seven years, Michael's of 25. I stopped with Michael and I said, when you step outside, breathe freedom.
MORTON: The sun was beaming down right there. There was this beautiful kind of fall day. The sun felt so good on my face, that I kind of tilted my head back a little like getting a suntan or something trying to just drink it in.
OLSON: The day of his exoneration I think they broadcast it on the news and interpret in Austin. I remember seeing my father for the first time outside of a picture online that we saw or an old family photo, but I felt like things were changing. Visual, tangible evidence that everything that I knew about that part of my life was going to change.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: New at 6:00, Mark Alan Norwood, a violent criminal with the record going back three decades, arrested today in a murder that sent the wrong man to prison for 25 years. And we've just confirmed he's also a suspect in a second murder.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: The victim in that case, Deborah Baker.
CAITLIN BAKER, DEBORAH BAKER'S DAUGHTER: When we first got the phone call about the possibility there was a connection to another case and that DNA might be involved, they thought there was a huge mistake.
JESSE BAKER, DEBORAH BAKER'S SON: Bringing this all up again was just a kick in the gut. It was a nightmare and everything you wanted all at the same time.
PHILLIP BAKER, DEBORAH BAKER'S HUSBAND: This had been this big hole that never closed far quarter of a century. We always hoped for closure, but I hoped it was true.
LISA MASTERS CONN, DEBORAH BAKER'S SISTER: When the police reopened the case this time, we've been through this with a cold case. But it was different this time. This was the first time they showed us pictures of somebody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: This morning a court date was set for the man indicted in the murder of Christine Morton in Austin back in 1986. You might recalled that Mark Norwood was indicted for the murder of Christine Morton with Michael Morton was found innocent of those charges after spending 25 years in prison. This morning Norwood stood in prison next to his attorney. Officials say DNA on a crime scene bandanna helped free Morton because it belongs to Norwood.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER: In Williamson County this morning, attorneys for the innocence project filed a report on the Michael Morton case. It alleges that then-attorney Ken Anderson refused to call chief investigator Don Wood to the witness stand because he didn't want to turn over key documents from Wood's file to Morton's defense lawyer.
ANDERSON: And as woefully inadequate as I realized it is, I want to formally apologize for the system's failure to Mr. Morton and to every other person who was adversely effected by the verdict.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: Do you feel he's responsible for your mother's murder?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In part, absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: How so?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He let Norwood go. He didn't get him when he should have. And my mother could be alive right now if he had. If he hadn't focused on Michael Morton, I could have my mother right now. I could have my mother still.
J. BAKER: In our justice system, We have those prosecutors that have too much power and too little accountability. Michael Morton was not special. He's a normal everyday guy like any of us. I am Michael Morton. You are Michael Morton. This could happen to any of us. And it's a damn shame.
LOU BRYAN: I guess I have to really say that the prosecution just did not let us know everything we should have known. We just didn't have all the facts. And you can't find someone guilty, you know, and just trust your gut if you don't have all the information. And we didn't.
ALLISON: As long as I live, I'll have mixed feelings about this case. When I look at these reports and so forth and see what was withheld from us, the very tools we needed to work with we didn't have. What Michael got was a fundamentally unfair trial when the constitution says that you are entitled to a fair trial.
RALEY: I am hopeful that this case sends a message that the law will be followed, and that if the law is not followed, there will be consequences.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: A Texas Supreme Court justice has cleared the way for Michael Morton to find out why evidence that could have set him free was not turned over to his lawyers 25 years ago.
SCHECK: We really do believe in due process. We really do believe that people shouldn't hide evidence that doesn't support their cause when it's their obligation to reveal it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER: It is important to note that judge Ken Anderson has said he did nothing wrong in the Morton case, but also testified in a deposition that he just did not remember most of the details surrounding this case from more than 25 years ago.
ANDERSON: I don't remember a lot of that. I have no recollection. I didn't have a recollection of all these writs being filed. I didn't know who tried the case with me. I don't recall getting asked a lot of factual questions. You know, I literally had totally forgot the issues in this case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It all looks like now all they cared about was protecting reputations, protecting colleagues. And truth and justice, those things that should have been the most important things, they weren't considered any importance at all.
MORTON: Other people often feel far more anger than I do. Vindication is very, very good, but it's something I knew all along. And so, I'm happy for everybody else's enlightenment, but it's really nothing new for me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an experience I'm sure he'll tell you he wishes he never had to go through. But as much as I hate to admit it and he will too, made me a better person and I think it made him one too. Woke him up.
SCHECK: Michael is in a doubly terrible position, because he not only was wrongfully convicted, but he's a crime victim himself. He lost a wife that he loved. He lost his child. Unbelievable.
OLSON: As a child if I loved my father, if I acknowledged that I loved him, part of me would have to acknowledge that he existed. Part of me would have to acknowledge that he had killed my mother. It wouldn't have made sense to love him if he had killed my mother.
MORTON: When my son and I first saw each other, we weren't sure how it was going to go.
OLSON: I almost felt like I wanted to just get it over with. I wanted to see my father so I could say I saw him, and then whichever way I felt, I didn't care.
MORTON: That evening my son showed up with his newlywed wife, and we shook hands immediately. But that morphed into a hug.
OLSON: I gave him a hug. Then we sat there awkwardly for the next couple of hours just looking at each other, sharing little stories. It was very surreal.
MORTON: When I was looking at my son, I noticed that our shoes were disturbingly similar, the way we held our heads, our gaits as we walked were eerily similar. The genes are there.
OLSON: It didn't feel like he was my father. It didn't feel like it was the dad that I knew growing up. Everything was different.
MORRISON: They have a swing out in the garden in the back of what I call the Raley estate, and Eric and I went out there. John took us out there and then John left. The lights were off and it was dark. It was at night. And we were rocking in this big swing gently, and the years just melted away there in the dark.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's good. Mommy wasted her time putting everything on there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look up, mommy. You're on camera.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Been on camera since we got that.
OLSON: Getting to talk to my father about my mother was something that I had waited for, for a long, long time. I never knew as a child that he actually loved my mother. It was just very special to hear him say things about her that I had never been told. And I realized that he was able to tell me things that nobody else would.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing. We're not doing anything.
OLSON: It was almost as if something completely changed about our relationship. When we were able to talk about my mother, talk about his wife, our family.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mike, come on. No, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mommy, the movie's on.
OLSON: I was always told when I was a kid from my family that my mother was like my guardian angel. So she was watching out for me or taking care of me. Sometimes I like to imagine that she would be here sitting in the room and she'd be happy, she'd be smiling.
When my father told me about my mother, when we were able to talk about family, talk about life before everything, everything was cleaned away. Everything was wiped away. Everything was OK.
MORTON: It was like this melding. We just came back, just as natural as that. And I couldn't have planned it any better. It was really good. My daughter-in-law, Maggie, gave birth to a beautiful little girl. They named her after my wife, Christine Marie. I've never seen a more perfect child. I think she is just gorgeous.
OLSON: When I watch my father hold my daughter, it was like watching a scene out of a movie because she's so young. Maggie and I are still learning how to be parents. For me it was special. Life has come full circle. It's kind of corny, it's kind of hokey to say it like that. It really has. There's really anything that symbolizes things are back to normal as much as it can be, it's when I see my father hold my daughter.
Now that I've reunited with my father, now that we spend time together, now that he's just as much a part of my family as anybody, I do love him.
MORTON: Now everything is different for me. The conundrums of life, the philosophical paradoxes, the metaphysical problems. I feel like I get it now. I understand suffering and unfairness. I can't think of anything better to receive than that. I'm good with this. This world, what's happened to me, where I'm going, what I'm doing. And I know three little simple things because of that. One, God exists. Two, he is wise. He's smarter than I am. And three, he loves me. You know those three things, what's your problem?