Tag Archives: politics

Burn Ban Busts Aggie Bonfire Again

Chalk up another casualty of the Texas drought: Texas AM University’s annual student bonfire was called off because of a burn ban in Robertson County. It’s the second year in a row that Aggie students havehad to cancel the towering 45 foot inferno.

“We’ve been under severe drought conditions now for a year,” Michelle Haver, a court coordinator for the Robertson county judge, told StateImpact Texas a joint reporting project of KUT and NPR.

As the bonfire’s website explains, the stack site will be open to visitors, but “under no circumstances” will they start a fire.

A collapse of the bonfire killed twelve students in 1999, and a memorial was built in their honor.

Across the state, the Texas Forest Service says about 170 of the state’s 254 counties have burn bans in effect. You can see them all on this map.  

Central Texas counties with burn bans include Bastrop, Williamson and Caldwell. Hays, Burnet and Guadalupe Counties do not have burn bans in effect.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s map signals a slight reduction in the drought’s footprint on Texas, but 89 percent of the state is still very dry. Sixty-five percent of the state is experiencing the most intense drought category: D4 drought or exceptional drought.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Longhorns last night tried to hex the AM football team ahead of their Thanksgiving Day game. It’s an annual tradition dating back 60 years, but it may come to an end next year when AM joins another athletic conference.

“It will be the last rally for AM that we know,” Texas Exes student relations coordinator Taylor Nyberg told The Daily Texan.

County’s House districts all over map with ruling

Since his decision last April to run for Texas House District 3
in Montgomery County, Cecil Bell has put 11,000 miles on a new
pickup traveling the county to meet potential constituents.

Now that a federal court in San Antonio has redrawn the
districts the Texas Legislature redrew in April, Bell – a Magnolia
resident who sits on the Magnolia Independent School District Board
of Trustees – will be traveling even more of the county to shake
hands.

Not only has the district changed its shape and grown in size,
it’s now known by a new name – Texas House District 136.

“I don’t know why the court was compelled to change it,” Bell
said. “It just puts me to work in a broader area.”

The redrawing of the district also will have an impact on the
campaign of Bob Bagley, a Montgomery County Hospital District board
member who recently announced he would run against Bell in the
March Republican primary.

With the new map in place, “I would have to move out of the
district to run,” Bagley said. “I will probably drop out of the
race and stay on the hospital district board.”

If the final map is drawn before candidate filings end in
December, “There’s still a possibility but we just have to wait and
see,” Bagley said.

The federal court on Thursday issued temporary political maps
for the 2012 election in Texas that some say will give Democrats a
greater chance of winning seats in the Legislature. The maps,
redrawn for both the Texas House and Senate, have to be given final
court approval and will remain in place until there is a resolution
to two lawsuits filed over the Legislature’s proposals.

The court also is expected to release a proposal for new
congressional districts.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday filed objections to
each of the federal court’s interim plans for the Texas House and
Senate.

When District 3 was originally drawn for Montgomery County by
the Legislature, it covered all of Waller County and Southwest
Montgomery County, narrowed down as it went through Conroe and them
opened up again to encompass a sizeable portion of East Montgomery
County.

Now, District 136 will still encompass all of Waller County and
Southwest Montgomery County, but it will continue heading north to
cover virtually all of West Montgomery County and part of Northeast
Montgomery County.

With that change, many residents of Lake Conroe – including
heavily Republican Bentwater, Walden and April Sound – and
Montgomery will lose their representation by Rep. Brandon
Creighton, R-Conroe, who holds District 16.

“I’m shocked and devastated,” Creighton said Monday. I lost the
western shoreline of Lake Conroe and the northern communities. To
lose April Sound, Bentwater and Walden …I’m devastated.”

The new map disrupts planning for the city of Conroe, which has
been fulfilling a plan to annex Lake Conroe over several years,
Creighton said.

“To divide Conroe and Lake Conroe is amazing and arbitrary,” he
said. “The San Antonio court made quick changes so the election
cycle could proceed. We’ll have to expect these changes for this
cycle.”

Democrats and minorities have complained that the maps drawn by
the Republican-controlled Legislature from electing their choice of
candidate. The legal fight centers around a requirement in the 1965
federal Voting Rights Act that certain states with a history of
discrimination, including Texas, be granted “preclearance” before
changes in voting practices can be enacted.

But until Thursday’s redrawing of the maps, there had been no
indication that the San Antonio judges would touch Montgomery
County or several other heavily Republican counties.

The court also redrew maps for Williamson, Collin and Fort Bend
Counties, which are politically similar to Montgomery County.

“Montgomery County’s the most flagrant,” Creighton said. “If
we’re clear on minority voting, there’s no legal justification for
this.”

“A court’s job is to apply the law, not to make policy,” Abbott
wrote in his objection to court’s interim House map. “A federal
court lacks the constitutional authority to interfere with the
expressed will of the state Legislature unless it is compelled to
remedy a specific identifiable violation of law.”

The three-judge panel, however, was split Thursday in a 2-1
vote, which Creighton said is an “opening” for the Surpreme
Court.

With Conroe’s plans for water and transportation, among other
issues, “To be severed away from the lake makes no sense,”
Creighton said.

The new map essentially looks the same for Rep. Rob Eissler,
R-The Woodlands, but adds a couple of precincts in Porter and New
Caney, said Dr. Walter Wilkerson, chair of the Montgomery County
Republican Party.

Creighton’s district is “a little less Republican” but District
136 is “more Republican the way it’s drawn now” because of its
incorporation of the Lake Conroe communities, Wilkerson said.

He feels both districts would elect Republicans.

“When you consider all the lake areas,” he said “I don’t see how
in the world any Democrat could win (District 136.)

“There’s no Democrat that’s going to beat Brandon.”

But, like Abbott and Creighton, Wilkerson is unhappy with the
federal court’s decision.

“I’m fed up with these courts. This is a bunch of baloney,” he
said. “Now we’re waiting on the district court in Washington.

“Even if they change it just a little bit, everyone has to
refile and run again.”

Systems don’t fail; people do – Austin American


Even as he offered an apology for a wrongful conviction that robbed an innocent man of 25 years of his life, State District Judge Ken Anderson sidestepped accepting responsibility for his role in it.

Despite evidence that pointed to someone other than Michael Morton in the murder of his wife, Christine, in 1986, Williamson County investigators and prosecutors focused on the husband. Michael Morton was convicted in 1987 and released from prison last month after DNA evidence implicated another suspect in the case.

Anderson, now a state district judge in Georgetown, was district attorney in Williamson County in 1986 and directed the Morton case. Though an apology from an officer of the court for a wrongful conviction is highly unusual, Anderson’s apology won’t give Morton 25 years of his life back. Nor will the apology repair the damage the conviction did to Morton’s family. Nor can the apology assuage the grief of the daughter who believes her mother was murdered because Christine Morton’s killer remained at large and free to kill again. Williamson County prosecutors ignored leads that might have led to the actual killer in their zeal to convict Michael Morton.

“As woefully inadequate as I realize it is, I want to formally apologize for the system’s failure to Mr. Morton and every other person who was affected by the verdict,” Anderson said at a news conference last week. It was rhetorical sleight of hand that ignores an obvious and compelling truth: The system doesn’t run itself. People run the system, and in this case, the people who run the system failed miserably.

As district attorney, Anderson swore to uphold justice. A record of winning convictions may make for good politics, but not all courtroom victories represent justice. Williamson County residents relish their reputation for being tough on crime. A narrowly focused pursuit of convictions, however, erodes faith in a system that functions well only if the public trusts it to be fair.

In Texas, at least 40 people have been exonerated by DNA evidence, according to the Innocence Project, which also handled Morton’s case.

Making the system fair is a responsibility entrusted to prosecutors, defense, investigators and judges who are that system.

Blaming the system is a convenient rhetorical device for a public official in a tough spot, but it renders Anderson’s apology hollow. If he is truly sorry, then Anderson should turn remorse into action by actively working to reform the system in a way that prevents future miscarriages of justice. Start with eliminating barriers that prevent post-conviction DNA testing and creating tougher sanctions against prosecutors who hide key evidence.

The Morton case is a high-profile embarrassment to Texas justice. Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley resisted instead of assisted efforts to test a bandana found near the Morton home for DNA. Morton’s lawyers ultimately prevailed and the DNA evidence cleared Morton.

Authorities now suspect Mark Norwood in the killing of both Christine Morton and Debra Baker, who was murdered in Travis County in 1988. DNA links him to both crimes. Norwood, who is in custody in Williamson County, has been charged in Christine Morton’s case.

Anderson said at his news conference that DNA evidence wasn’t available in 1987. While true, it ignores the fact that the Morton’s 3-year-old son told investigators his father wasn’t home when Christine Morton was killed. Chalk that up to the impressions of a traumatized 3-year-old if you will, but there was also evidence that Christine Morton’s credit card was used in San Antonio days after her death.

The State Bar of Texas has mounted an inquiry into Anderson’s conduct and the judge has given a deposition to Morton’s appellate lawyers. A transcript is expected to be released soon, maybe even this week. All that inquiry and investigation is warranted because the consequences of the Morton case were far-reaching, as Anderson himself acknowledged in his statement.

Christine Morton lost her life. Michael Morton lost 25 years. Their son lost both of his parents.

Caitlin Baker lost her mother, Debra. And the system Anderson talks about lost credibility.

Credibility is the foundation of the criminal justice system. The people who are the system have the responsibility to maintain that system’s integrity like it was their own because it is. A lifeless system doesn’t make choices and exercise judgment. Anderson remains a crucial element of our justice system. He continues to make choices and exercise discretion that has far-reaching consequences.

The system didn’t fail in the Morton case. The people who are the system failed.

Freethought San Marcos: Judge Ken Anderson still can’t tell the truth about …

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

Former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, now a Williamson County District Judge, who wrongfully secured the conviction of Michael Morton 25 years ago for killing his wife Christine, has apologized in a press conference held a few days ago. Anderson’s apology appears taken right out of the Politics 101 Manual–admit that a mistake was made, but explain the mistake away. The first problem with his apology, however, is that he began it with telling a lie.

Anderson said, “Twenty-five years ago, Michael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife in this very courthouse. The jury’s verdict was based on the evidence as we knew it at the time.” Thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, we now know that the evidence Anderson had available to him at the time of trial, but Morton’s defense attorneys did not have, included a statement made by Morton’s three-year old son to his grandmother that a “monster” with a mustache killed his mother, not Morton. Had defense attorneys been given this information, which Anderson was required by law to reveal, Morton might not have been convicted. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

In addition, Anderson knew that a check to Christine Morton had been cashed nine days after her murder by someone who forged Christine’s signature, but Anderson withheld this evidence from defense attorneys. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

And there was evidence that someone had used Christine Morton’s credit card in San Antonio after she was killed, but Anderson failed to tell defense attorneys, and no law enforcement agency apparently followed up on this information after it was received by the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

One final piece of nondisclosed evidence that Anderson knew about or should have known about was a report by a neighbor that around the time of Christine Morton’s murder, he had seen a suspicious person park a green van behind the Mortons’ house on several occasions and walk into the adjacent wooded area. A second neighbor also had information about this suspicious person. Anderson violated his sworn duty to reveal that information.

The Texas Code of Criminal procedure provides that “It shall be the primary duty of all prosecuting attorneys,. . . not to convict, but to see that justice is done. They shall not suppress facts or secrete witnesses capable of establishing the innocence of the accused.” In 1963, the US Supreme Court held in Brady v. Maryland that “the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused . . . violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Furthermore, Article I, Section 19 of the Texas Constitution gives an accused the same rights recognized in the Brady decision.

And the prosecution has a duty to learn of and disclose the exculpatory evidence in the possession of all members of the prosecution team, which includes the police, other law enforcement agencies, such as the WCSO, and other investigators working with or on behalf of the state. In 1985, the US Supreme Court held that evidence is material “if there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceedings would have been different.”

All of the withheld evidence would have met that standard. We know this because immediately after the trial the assistant prosecutor in Morton’s case, Mike Davis, told some of the trial jurors after the trial that the state had failed to disclose some “investigatory materials to the defense.” Davis said that if the defense had gotten the materials, it would have been able to raise even more doubt than it did about Morton’s guilt. (See the Motion for New Trial filed on March 17, 1987, by defense attorney William P. Allison.)

While a bandanna with blood and hair fibers on it was found near the Mortons’ house during the investigation, it provided no help to Morton because DNA testing was in its infancy, but Anderson is using the earlier absence of DNA evidence as a smoke-screen to hide his malfeasance, claiming that this new evidence is all that matters in showing Morton’s innocence. Judge Anderson now wants to pretend that he did nothing wrong and should be forgiven for securing a wrongful conviction, but he fought a subpoena to give testimony under oath for weeks, exhausting all appeals before being compelled to answer questions posed by Morton’s post-conviction attorneys, who represent the Innocence Project. Morton was released from prison a few weeks ago after the DNA evidence on the bandanna implicated another man in his wife’s murder.

This past week, the Austin American-Statesman reported: “On Nov. 9, Williamson County sheriff’s officers charged Mark Norwood, a Bastrop dishwasher and former carpet installer, with the murder of Christine Morton. DNA tests conducted last summer found Norwood’s DNA on a bandanna that had been collected from a construction site behind the Morton home the day after the murder. Tests on the cloth were inconclusive in 1986, but the recent DNA tests confirmed that the bandanna also contained Christine Morton’s blood and one of her hairs. Norwood also is a suspect in the 1988 Austin murder of Debra Masters Baker. Like Morton, Baker had been beaten to death in her bed. No charges have been filed in the Baker case, which had remained unsolved.”

Judge Anderson says he believes that 25 years ago he complied with the requirements then in place to disclose evidence that might tend to show the innocence of Morton. After refreshing his memory by reviewing the files that he compiled then, Anderson said, “I believe that the state’s prosecution team complied with all orders from the court and with the law on pretrial discovery and disclosures as it existed in 1987.” Once again, Anderson will not admit the essential wrong-doing that he committed while serving as Williamson County District Attorney.

If Anderson continues to insist that he did nothing wrong 25 years ago, he further diminishes the reputation of another Williamson County district judge, the late Judge Bill Lott, who presided over the Morton trial. Anderson claims that he submitted to Judge Lott files that were not given to the defense for Judge Lott’s review to determine whether they included exculpatory evidence. Judge Lott did not find any exculpatory evidence in the files. If Anderson gave Judge Lott any of the exculpatory evidence discussed above, and Lott ruled it was not exculpatory, he is implicated in this on-going cover-up, as well.

There is nothing new in Anderson’s conduct. For anyone who has spent much time working in what is mistakenly called “the criminal justice system,” misconduct by prosecutors is not only common, but widely known. While prosecutors love to tell jurors that they have a duty to see that justice is done, what they really like to do is convict people of crimes. The less scrupulous ones don’t care about what is termed “exculpatory evidence.” Anderson was one of that kind of prosecutor. He helped build the reputation of the Williamson County District Attorney’s office as a hard-nosed, “hang’em high” fiefdom, destitute of actual justice.

I have known prosecutors who bragged that the milk of human kindness did not flow through their veins. I have seen prosecutors who worked out their own sociopathic tendencies by being as hard, mean, and indifferent to human welfare as the most callous criminal. In fact, prosecuting is one of the professions where sociopathic behavior is regularly rewarded by advancement in the profession and sometimes by election to the position of District Attorney.

Fortunately, not all District Attorneys and prosecutors take out their own personality defects through their work. There are many hard-working, diligent prosecutors who primarily seek justice, not convictions, but Williamson County in recent decades has not produced too many of this kind. Judge Anderson and the current occupant of his former position, John Bradley, have done a disservice to the notion of justice. Bradley fought even the testing of the DNA evidence in Morton’s case until he had exhausted all avenues of interposition.

During this same period, Bradley served as Gov. Rick Perry’s minion as the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission in an attempt to keep evidence of Cameron Todd Willingham’s wrongful conviction and execution from being officially acknowledged. Bradley now claims to have had a Damascus Road experience and to be a changed man, following only the path of righteousness as a prosecutor. I’ll believe that when Willingham comes back to life.

The average citizen does not know the level of corruption that can exist in a system such as the Williamson County District Attorney’s office. When a prosecutor is working in a courtroom with a prosecutor-friendly judge, there is nothing that can be done in the prosecution of a defendant that is too extreme. Many defense attorneys are too timid to vigorously defend their clients in such a hostile environment. I have known attorneys who have gone from being prosecutors to defense attorneys and vice versa, and those who have gone from being prosecutors or defense attorneys to being District Attorneys or judges. Most of them do so with integrity and faithfulness to the highest ideals of the profession.

Unfortunately, Ken Anderson and John Bradley do not represent this latter group. They have been comfortable with ignoring the requirements of the law, judicial decisions, and the ethical code they are sworn to uphold, which provides that “The prosecutor in a criminal case shall . . . make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.”

Whatever Ken Anderson says now, the record shows that he failed in his legal and ethical duties in the Morton case. It was a personal moral failure, a professional failure, and a failure to do justice to Michael Morton, Christine Morton, the Mortons’ young son, the entire Morton family, the actual murderer of Christine Morton and Debra Baker, the citizens of Williamson County and the State of Texas, and to the system of justice that Americans believe makes us special among nations. Maybe our system is not so special after all.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

RELATED IN THE MERCURY:

Posted by
on November 21, 2011. Filed under In the mix, Opinion.
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.
You can leave a response or trackback to this entry