State District Judge Ken Anderson, the former Williamson County district attorney accused of criminal and ethical violations in the 1987 prosecution of Michael Morton, resigned from office Tuesday.
Anderson informed Gov. Rick Perry of his resignation, “effective immediately,” in a one-sentence letter that was dated Monday but faxed to Perry’s office Tuesday morning.
Anderson provided no reason for his decision. There were indications, however, that the resignation was part of an agreement to resolve criminal and civil cases against him.
On the civil side, a lawsuit filed by the State Bar of Texas accused Anderson of professional misconduct by hiding favorable evidence from Morton’s trial lawyers. A trial in that case was set to begin next week but is now expected to be postponed.
Anderson also faces felony and misdemeanor criminal charges — tampering with evidence and tampering with a government record — accusing him of hiding documents to secure Morton’s guilty verdict and life sentence in the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine. After almost 25 years in prison, Morton was freed in 2011 when DNA evidence proved that another man killed his wife in the bedroom of their southwestern Williamson County home.
Anderson’s lawyer and State Bar officials, as well as a special prosecutor appointed to pursue Anderson’s criminal case, declined Tuesday to comment on the future of the cases against the former judge.
Perry appointed Anderson as a district judge in Georgetown in 2002, and his current four-year term was set to expire at the end of 2014.
Perry, who will choose Anderson’s replacement, accepted the judge’s resignation in a return letter that thanked Anderson for his service. “I wish you all the best in your future endeavors,” Perry wrote.
Anderson was Williamson County’s tough-on-crime top prosecutor for 16½ years beginning in 1985, winning accolades for his courtroom prowess, help for child victims and work as co-author on several legal reference books. His legacy began to tarnish, however, when DNA evidence cleared Morton — unraveling one of his signature convictions in a case that had no eyewitnesses, no murder weapon and no forensic evidence tying Morton to the crime.
As part of their efforts to clear Morton’s name in 2011, defense lawyers were granted access to Anderson’s trial files, where they found two documents that would come to haunt the former district attorney:
• A transcript of a police interview indicating that the Mortons’ 3-year-old son witnessed his mother’s murder and said that Michael Morton wasn’t home at the time.
• A police report about the driver of a green van who aroused a neighbor’s suspicion by walking into the wooded area behind the Morton home on several occasions.
Both pieces of evidence bolstered the defense theory that an unknown intruder killed Christine Morton.
Morton’s trial lawyers insisted, under oath, that Anderson hadn’t provided either piece of information despite his legal requirement to do so. Also under oath, Anderson said he didn’t recall the particulars of the two-decade-old case but insisted that he would have discussed the information with defense lawyers because that was his standard practice as district attorney.
After his release from prison, Morton and his lawyers pressed for, and were granted, a court of inquiry to examine Anderson’s handling of the Morton prosecution.
The court of inquiry convened to a packed courtroom — just down the hall from Anderson’s courtroom — in February for a weeklong hearing with witnesses that included Morton’s trial lawyers, former assistant prosecutors and several jurors.
Two months later, District Judge Louis Sturns issued a scathing report, finding that Anderson acted to defraud the trial court and Morton’s defense lawyers by hiding evidence. Sturns ordered Anderson to be arrested and booked into jail on the tampering charges and ordered Anderson to answer a contempt of court charge.
After his mug shot was taken, Anderson posted a personal bond and was quickly released from jail. He remained on the bench but presided over only civil matters, with criminal cases handled by visiting judges.
If convicted of the felony tampering charge, Anderson could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
In the civil case, Anderson could be disbarred, have his law license suspended for a certain amount of time or receive a public reprimand.
District Judge Kelly Moore of Brownfield was appointed to preside over both the criminal and civil cases against Anderson.
In a statement released by his lawyers, Anderson said he will focus on making the transition into private life.
“I have spent the past 28 years as an elected official. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience as Williamson County has transitioned from a sleepy rural county to the dynamic county it is today,” Anderson said. “There comes a time when every public official must decide that it is time to leave public life. For me and my family, that time is now.”
Morton’s lawyers, John Raley of Houston and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project in New York, said Anderson’s resignation was “long overdue.”
“We have little doubt that the voters would not have re-elected him in next year’s contest,” Raley and Scheck said in a joint statement. “He still admits no wrongdoing and shows no real remorse, claiming it was ‘the system,’ not Ken Anderson, that failed Michael Morton.”
Career: Williamson County district attorney for 16½ years before becoming a District Court judge in 2002. State Bar of Texas’ Prosecutor of the Year in 1995.
Education: Graduated Westchester High School in Houston, 1970. University of Texas bachelor’s degree, 1973. UT Law School, 1976.
Family: Lives in Georgetown with his wife; has two sons.
Other: Wrote “Crime in Texas” and the “Texas Crime Victims Handbook,” co-authored two legal reference books.
Source: Williamson County
Chuck Lindell, who has covered legal affairs since 2005, has written more than 50 stories on Michael Morton’s case, beginning in 2008 with an appeal pressing for the DNA tests that would eventually lead to his exoneration.
Explore an interactive timeline on Ken Anderson and the Michael Morton case and read previous coverage with this story at mystatesman.com.