Thursday, September 1, 2011

The monster wore red gloves and fled with a club

After 25 years, court releases evidence

Georgetown – A Houston area grandmother was putting on her makeup while watching her 3-year-old grandson a little more than a week after his mother's brutal murder in the central Texas town of Georgetown.

“Eric and I were alone...which is the first time he and I had been alone since his mother's death...Eric laid his blanket on the floor of my bedroom. He said, Mommie is sleeping in the flowers. His dad had told him that last week at the cemetery. Then he kicked the blanket and said, 'Mommie, get up.'

Grandmother: Don't kick Mommie, Eric.
Eric: Mommie's crying. She's...stop it. Go away.
Grandmother: Why is she crying?
Eric: Cause the monster's there.
Grandmother: What's he doing?
Eric: He hit Mommie. He broke the bed.
Grandmother: Is Mommie still crying?
Eric: No, Mommie stopped.

The child went on to say, “The monster threw a blue suitcase on the bed. He's mad.” The grandmother and mother of the victim, Rita Kirkpatrick, quickly jotted down the dialogue that had just occurred between her and her grandson.

She phoned Williamson County Sheriff's Office lead investigator Sgt. Don Wood and read him notes of the conversation with her grandson about the murder of her daughter.

That piece of exculpatory evidence was sealed in the case file for many years until an appeals court ordered the requested items placed into evidence in the case.

When Court officials opened the sealed records, the intereview with Mrs. Kirkpatrick and many other items were missing.
Many knowledgeable observers believe that prosecutors perpetrated a fraud in the long-ago case and sent an innocent man to the perdition of a penitentiary cell.

But the child's recollections are accurate and jibe with the photos and descriptions of the crime scene. For instance, crime scene investigation showed whoever killed Christine Morton on August 13, 1986, in the presence of her little boy tried to cover her body with a blue suitcase and a wicker basket.

The child spoke of a “monster” wearing red gloves, in reference to his blood-stained hands. Furthermore, he said he saw the man carrying wood as he left by the front door on a direct route to the construction site.

“There is no reason to believe that either the trial prosecutors or Mr. Bradley were unaware of the suppressed material and its significance,” according to the recusal motion Mr. Scheck and his associates filed.

Investigators found a bloody club fashioned from a weathered piece of wood on a nearby construction site, as well as a blood-soaked bandana with hair and other body fluids from both Mr. Morton and her attacker.

There are several witness statements that are missing, as well. A neighbor told the investigator of a man who often parked his van beside the construction site, then cut through some woods to the houses beyond. A construction foreman told the investigator of a man he had on the job who was often compelled to go and do strange things at houses in the neighborhood where he did not belong. All these items were the object of extensive litigation by prosecutors to keep the record sealed as "work product" and not subject to the rules of discovery or of a public information act request.

Sgt. Wood, the lead investigator, never testified. The DA and prosecutors did not call him as a prosecution witness, something that is highly unusual in a criminal trial.

Prosecutors delayed testing the items for the DNA which eventually excluded the rest of the world's population by a factor of billions to one for six years, then resisted turning the evidence over to a Department of Public Safety lab for analysis before computers eventually produced a “hit” on a known offender whose DNA is on file in the system. The man has a record for burglary and assault.

All the while, the boy's father, Michael Morton, has been serving a life sentence in a Texas penitentiary.

District Attorney John Bradley, a man who was once the chairman of the Texas Forensics Commission before Governor Rick Perry dismissed him out of embarrassment, has fought tooth and nail to keep the items of exculpatory evidence out of the record.

Earlier, on August 23, 26th Judicial District Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield denied a motion by the New York-based Innocence Project to recuse Mr. Bradley from the case.

Barry Scheck, the attorney who so adroitly challenged the collection techniques and preservation of blood evidence used against O.J. Simpson, signed the motion.

On Wednesday, August 31, Judge Stubblefield recused himself, clearing the way for the Texas Supreme Court to appoint 226th District Judge Sid Harle of San Antonio to proceed with the case.

It's significant because the long and epic battle is one of the first successful challenges of Texas murder investigations on record.

At the time of the Innocence Project's unsuccessful challenge of the evidence of arson used against a Corsicana man accused of burning his house down to cause the death of his wife and children, Mr. Bradley told media representatives:

“What they are interested in is finding the poster boy for the abolition of the death penalty. And they want to make Williingham that poster boy. And they chose poorly, because Willinghamm is a guilty monster.”

Mr. Willingham was later executed for a crime many experts say not only he did not commit, but no one did, because the arson as alleged in the indictment did not, in fact, occur.

Ironically, in a filing in response to the Innocence Project's motion to preserve and produce documents, prosecutor Kristen Jernigan wrote, “The Court can be assured that none of the items requested by the Defendant are going anywhere. They have been preserved for almost twenty-five years and will remain that way...”

How true. They were 25 long years for Michael Morton, too, who still stands convicted for a crime he and his son know he did not commit, but have been prevented from offering evidence that would cast a reasonable doubt on that allegation.

He languishes in a penitentiary, working hard to get a new day in court and a chance to present exculpatory evidence and to cross examine the chief witness against him.

In a strikingly similar murder case, a woman lost her life to a killer who used very much the same method. In November 1980, Mildred McKinney was murdered less than a mile from the Morton home. Both victims were bludgeoned to death after bloody assaults in their bedrooms. Neither crime scene showed any signs of forced entry – yet in both, unidentified fingerprints were found on unlocked, sliding glass doors to the home. And both victims were found with several items of household furniture stacked on top of their bodies.

Austin Courts Examiner Lou Ann Anderson contributed to this report.

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