Williamson Prosecutor Asserts a Change of Heart

A supremely confident and legendarily tough Texas prosecutor, Mr. Bradley says he is learning some of the most important — and humbling — lessons of his 24-year career. It is a painful process, he says. It is also highly public.

“I have been through a series of events that deeply challenged me,” Mr. Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, said during an extended interview. “I recognized that I could be angry, resentful and react to people, or I could look for the overall purpose and lesson and apply it to not only my own professional life but teach it. And I chose the latter path.”

In the last two years, Mr. Bradley and his trademark sharp tongue have been at the center of two of the most controversial murder cases in Texas. In 2009, as chairman of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, he and the New York-based Innocence Project battled over re-examining the case of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Corsicana man executed in 2004 for setting the 1991 fire that killed his three daughters.

For six years, Mr. Bradley also fought the Innocence Project’s efforts to exonerate Michael Morton, who in 1987 was convicted of murdering his wife by Mr. Bradley’s predecessor, Ken Anderson.

Mr. Bradley discovered that not only was he wrong about Mr. Morton’s guilt, but that there are questions about whether his predecessor committed the worst kind of prosecutorial misconduct: hiding evidence that ultimately allowed the real murderer to remain free and kill again.

Some of Mr. Bradley’s critics are skeptical of his self-professed transformation, pointing out that he is facing re-election next year, and they say it cannot atone for the years that his stubbornness allowed Mr. Morton to remain wrongly imprisoned. But some are hopeful that what he says he has learned will lead other prosecutors to acknowledge that science can reveal and help correct flaws in the state’s criminal justice system.

“He is, I think, a reasonably principled guy who is a complete product of a system that is finally giving way to a new day here in Texas and the rest of the country,” said Jeff Blackburn, general counsel for the Innocence Project of Texas.

Mr. Bradley grew up as a prosecutor in his hometown, Houston, working from 1987 to 1989 under an iconic figure, the Harris County district attorney Johnny Holmes. From 1992 until 2000, Mr. Holmes’s office sent 111 defendants to death row, according to a 2010 report by David McCord, a Drake University Law School professor.

“He was a true Texas lawman,” Mr. Bradley said of Mr. Holmes. “It was an honor to learn while working in his office.”

The workload was crushing, though. He worked 70 hours each week in an office where defense lawyers were viewed as hostile enemies.

“I always felt like I was swimming among sharks,” he said. “And you had to defend yourself, and you have to be the same predator back.”

When Mr. Bradley and his wife, Leslie, decided to expand their family, they moved to Williamson County, which was smaller but had a reputation for being just as tough on crime. Mr. Anderson hired Mr. Bradley.

“It was a tremendous culture shock,” he said.

And not only because his office consisted of a card table and a folding chair in the hallway. Almost immediately, Mr. Bradley said, he realized he could not treat defense lawyers like “sharks” in this small community. “Your professional relationship is an important part of being a lawyer, something I did not develop in Houston that I’m still working on,” he said.

Through the years, Mr. Bradley developed a close relationship with his boss, Mr. Anderson. They wrote two law books together. Mr. Bradley also began working with lawmakers at the Capitol, just a 30-minute drive south of Georgetown, and when Gov. Rick Perry appointed Mr. Anderson as a state judge in 2002, he appointed Mr. Bradley to take over as district attorney.

When Mr. Bradley arrived in Williamson County in 1989, Mr. Morton had already served two years of his life sentence.

Like many of those who are convicted, Mr. Morton maintained his innocence, arguing that an intruder must have killed his wife after he left for work in the morning. In 2005, Mr. Morton began asking the state to test DNA evidence on a number of items, including a bloody blue bandanna found near their home the day after the murder.

bgrissom@texastribune.org

DFW briefs: Bedford woman’s body is found in Central Texas


Area woman’s body is

found in Central Texas

GEORGETOWN — The body of an 18-year-old Bedford woman was found in a remote area of Central Texas on Monday morning, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department reported Tuesday.

Tynesia Brown had been shot, the department said. Investigators think that she was killed elsewhere and that her body was dumped south of Jarrell, along County Road 370 off Interstate 35. The area is about 150 miles south of Bedford between Belton and Georgetown.

Brown lived in Bedford with her mother, who reported seeing her Friday. Brown may have been traveling with a man and a woman in a silver sedan. They are believed to have visited truck stops and hotels along I-35, the department said.

Anyone with information about Brown’s activities over the weekend or whom she was traveling with is asked to call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department, 512-943-1300; Williamson County Crime Stoppers, 800-253-7867; or North Texas Crime Stoppers, 877-373-TIPS (8477). A reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest or indictment.

— Mitch Mitchell

Human skull is found

in northwest Tarrant

TARRANT COUNTY — A partial human skull was found Tuesday in unincorporated Tarrant County near Lakeside, authorities reported.

The skull was found with no jawbone by a man riding an all-terrain vehicle in the 7200 block of La Cantera Drive about 2 p.m., said Terry Grisham of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department. Forensic investigators hope to get usable DNA from the skull, and investigators are combing through missing-persons reports, he said.

— Mitch Mitchell

Radioactive device is

stolen out of pickup

GRAND PRAIRIE — A device that measures the density of foundations using a tiny amount of radiation was stolen from the back of a pickup Tuesday, Grand Prairie police reported.

The nuclear-density device is bright yellow and has a red radiation sticker on the container. The X-ray inside is within a solid lead box that shields people from radiation. If the lead box is compromised, the radiation would contaminate a 10- to 20-foot area.

Anyone who finds the device should call 911. Anyone with information about the theft is asked to call Grand Prairie Crime Stoppers at 972-988-8477.

— Mitch Mitchell

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Bedford mother appeals for help in finding daughter’s killers


BEDFORD — The mother of a slain teen fought back tears Wednesday afternoon as she appealed for help to find the killer or killers of her daughter whose body was dumped in a secluded area of Williamson County near Austin.

Latina Woods said she doesn’t know why someone would kill her 18-year-old daughter Tynesia Brown and then leave her body near Interstate 35. Brown’s body was found Monday morning.

“I keep expecting her to call,” Woods said. “The not knowing why has been very hard.”

Woods talked to repoters in small groups one after the other Wednesday afternoon at the Bedford police station in hopes that someone would come forward with information about her daughter’s killing.

Brown’s body was found about 9:30 a.m. Monday in an isolated area of County Road 370 just off Interstate 35 south of Jarrell. The town is about 40 miles north of Austin in Willliamson County.

Woods last saw her daughter Friday moring at their Bedford home.

“I thought she was staying with friends during the weekend,” Woods said. “I tried to call and text her all weekend.”

Officials with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department and Texas Rangers say they believe that Brown, who died from a gunshot wound, was killed somewhere along Interestate 35 and her body dumped near Jarrell.

Investigators say the teen had been traveling with an African-American man and woman in a silver sedan. The three are believed to have visited truck stops and hotels up and down Interstate 35.

Detectives are not ruling out that the killing may have occurred in a hotel room.

“I don’t know anyone with a car like that,” Woods said. “If I did, I would have already called police.”

Authorities say they believe the suspect may be known in the North Texas area.

Woods said she was unaware of her daughter traveling on the interestate with a man and woman.

Bedford police Lt. Kirk Roberts said Wednesday that no missing person report was filed.

“I even texted her Monday morning to tell her to call and that I loved her,” Woods said.

Woods described her daughter as a typical teen-ager, with her share of problems, but nothing major.

Born in Mississippi, Brown was home-schooled and had been looking forward to going back to her home state for Thanksgiving.

“She could hardly wait to get back to her family,” Woods said. “She loved her family.”

A $5,000 reward has been offered for information in the case through Crime Stoppers.

Anyone with information should call the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department at 512-943-1300, the Williamson County Crime Stoppers at 1-800-253-7867 or North Texas Crime Stoppers 1-877-373-8477.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763

Michael Morton’s former prosecutor apologizes

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — A former prosecutor has apologized for sending an innocent man to prison.

Ken Anderson, now a district judge in Williamson County, was the district attorney in 1986 who prosecuted Michael Morton.

Morton was convicted of murdering his wife Christine. He spent 25 years in prison, but was released recently after new DNA evidence proved Morton was not the killer.

Instead, the DNA linked Mark Norwood of Bastrop County to the crime.

Anderson, who is accused of among other things concealing key evidence that could have proven Morton’s innocence, issued an apology on the steps of the Williamson County courthouse Wednesday afternoon.

Judge Anderson said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment on the case while it was pending before other district judges, but now that those proceedings have essentially concluded, he wanted to publicly apologize.

Despite the apology, Anderson steadfastly denied the allegations of professional misconduct involving his office. 

Anderson says he has no plans to resign as district judge.

Read Ken Anderson’s apology in its entirety below:

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“Twenty-five years ago, Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife. The jury’s verdict was based on the evidence as we knew it at the time. DNA testing was not available at the time of the trial. It is now. In hindsight, the verdict was wrong. Mr. Morton was and is innocent of that crime.

The criminal justice system is designed to protect all of us – including those accused of crimes. As district attorney at the time, as woefully inadequate as it is, I want to formally apologize for the system’s failure to Mr. Morton and everyone else adversely affected by the verdict.

Up until now, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to comment about this case while it was pending before other district judges. But those proceedings have essentially concluded.

There have been a number of allegations made about the professional conduct of the prosecutors, including me on this case.

In my heart, I know there was no misconduct of any sort. After the passage of 25 years, I obviously cannot recall the specific details of the trial, including pretrial discovery and conversations I had with Mr. Morton’s counsel before and during the trial. But I have been able to review the trial transcript and documents from the files. Based on that review, I believe that the State’s prosecution team fully complied with all orders from the court and with the law on pretrial discovery and disclosures as it existed in 1987.

My hope and prayer is that Mr. Morton will be able to move forward with his life after these incredibly tragic events.”

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