Delayed Freedom: KETK's exclusive interview with Michael Morton
POSTED: Thursday, July 31, 2014 - 11:10am
UPDATED: Monday, August 4, 2014 - 10:37am
Tyler, Texas (KETK) — On October 4th, 2011, Michael Morton walked out of a Texas state prison a free man, exonerated for the murder of his wife.
Morton spent nearly 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
But in an exclusive sit down interview with KETK's Garrett Sanders, Morton tells his story, and how he is fighting to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else.
Morton spent 24 years and 7 months to the day in prison.
Numbers, which for many reasons, are easy for him to recall, namely they represent his time behind bars, an existence, which was 24-7.
"When you're in there, your guilt or your innocence is irrelevant, because everybody has to go through the same stuff," said Morton.
In 1986, Morton's wife Christine was found beaten and murdered on their family bed in Williamson County near Austin.
Morton was soon fingered as the number one suspect, and in 1987, he was sentenced to life in prison.
"It's almost as if you're watching yourself, you're having an almost out of body experience where it's so bizarre and it's so unlike what you're accustom to, that you're on the outside looking in even when it's you. It's kind of like being hit in the face in a fight you didn't expect, you're stunned," said Morton.
As the years crawled by, Morton missed the chance to properly mourn for his wife, lay his grandparents to rest, and watch his son grow.
A son, who was 4 at the time of his mother's murder, and who would later change his last name to further distance himself from the man he was told was a monster.
But Morton did finally receive help, from an organization known as the Innocence Project.
"They do the Lord's work, oh man, they do what nobody else wants to do or seems to be able to do, and there's not a guy inside that doesn't think that, that's a great organization," said Morton.
For more than a decade, this organization worked on Morton's behalf, finding new evidence, along with evidence which was hidden by the prosecution,
Among their findings was a transcript of a conversation between Morton's son and his grandmother, where his son asks about a monster in the house, and says daddy wasn't home.
As well as a bloody rag, which once tested, proved to have Christine's, as well as another man's blood.
That other man was Mark Norwood, a dishwasher who lived in Austin, who is suspected of killing another area woman in 1988.
Morton was a free man.
"The day that I got out, I didn't think about it ahead of time but I just referred to the people of the Innocence Project as angels. My assets, my family assets had all been spent on every legal thing we could think of, we were at the end of our ropes and the Innocence Project stepped in," said Morton.
Morton has been exonerated for more than two years now, has remarried, and moved back to the place where he grew up, East Texas.
"For some reason I expected it to be a time capsule, that I was going to come home to the way it was and it's changed in a good way, and I've changed too," said Morton.
He's now written a book called Getting Life which chronicles his story, but that story isn't over.
Back in January, the Michael Morton Act, which was signed by Governor Rick Perry, went into law.
The law is designed to ensure a more open discovery process, the bill's open file policy removes barriers for accessing evidence.
"Keeping the Michael Morton Act strong isn't for defense attorneys and isn't against prosecutors or the cops, it's for the citizens, because you have no idea what it's like to have the weight of the state after you," said Morton.
Along with the corruption in the Williamson County district attorney's office, Morton spent many years hating those who took his life from him.
But even before he was let out, he let that hatred go.
"I don't have the anger and bitterness that I used to, right now I'm a product of the grace of God. I will admit there was a time when I was very angry and I plotted the demise of a number of people I felt responsible, but after I literally and figuratively saw the light. The process began within me and I changed and you release vengeance and hatred it comes off of your shoulder like a weight," said Morton.
So Morton tells his story, across the country, fighting for the rights of those who like him, are still wrongfully imprisoned, and reminding all those he meets, what kind of person was forged behind those bars for so many years, and what keeps him motivated 24-7.
"You're stronger than you think you are, and you can get through it, one way or the other and that at the end of it you'll be a better person because of it," said Morton.
According to the innocence project, the average time spent behind bars before an inmate who is exonerated, is 13.5 years.
If you'd like to meet Michael Morton, he will be doing another book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Tyler this Sunday starting at noon.