UPDATE: ‘Michael Morton Act’ signed into law

 Houston Chronicle

Exoneree Michael Morton grinned from ear to ear as he watched Gov. Rick Perry ceremoniously sign into law a bill that bore Morton’s name, meant to reduce wrongful convictions, on Thursday.

Gov. Rick Perry, flanked by legislators and exoneree Michael Morton, signs into law Senate Bill 1611, named after Morton. Photo by Eva Ruth Moravec

“This is a huge victory for integrity and fairness in our judicial system,” said Perry, who then gave the pen he used to sign Senate Bill 1611 to Morton. Morton, wearing blue jeans and a navy jacket, kissed the pen and gave the crowd a “thumbs-up”.

The bill, written by Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, requires prosecutors to give lawyers representing the accused any evidence that is relevant to the defense’s case. The intent of the bill, Ellis has said, is to ensure that key facts that could affect the trial aren’t hidden.

“This isn’t necessarily a good thing for me, because my time and my experiences are finished and that’s not going to change,” Morton said to reporters after the bill was signed. “But this law passed today, and was signed, this will make it much better for everybody else, so that what happened to me won’t happen to you.”

Morton was wrongly convicted in Williamson County for the slaying of his wife, Christine Morton, who was beaten to death in 1986. Morton’s case was taken up by the Innocence Project in New York, and he was cleared by DNA testing. He was formally acquitted in 2011.

Ellis said the case’s widespread media attention, and proximity to Austin, may have helped it get passed during this legislative session.

“The trial put the issue of discovery front and center for months,” he said. “It put such a bright spotlight on the need for discovery reform.”

Ken Anderson, then-Williamson County District Attorney, is accused of deliberately withholding evidence from the defense that indicated Morton’s innocence. As the bill passed the Texas House on May 14, Morton was present and was recognized by lawmakers.

The bill is one of several Ellis has authored or sponsored to aid exonerees. House Bill 166, which would create a commission to review future exonerations, has passed the Texas House, but is awaiting a vote in a senate committee. In Texas, 117 people have been exonerated of crimes they didn’t commit, causing the state to lead the nation in exonerations.