Power of advanced DNA testing spotlighted in Morton case
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As Michael Morton walked out of a courthouse as a free man Tuesday, after spending almost 25 years in prison Tuesday, the power of DNA evidence is once again at the forefront for future cases.
"It's turned people's heads around. It's made believers out of non-believers. The problem is not every case can be solved by DNA," Innocence Project attorney Gerry Goldstein said.
Austin attorney Sam Bassett says the advancement of DNA testing is putting the criminal justice system in a new light.
"We're at a strange time in criminal justice because a lot of the technical advances and scientific advances that have been made to allow us to reexamine certain types of cases, and mistakes have been made in very serious cases," Bassett said.
Bassett spoke specifically about the Cameron Todd Willingham case, one that did not involve DNA evidence, but did involve the reluctance to reexamine the case based on new scientific evidence.
Willingham was executed in 2004 for starting a 1991 fire at his Corsicana home that killed his three daughters.
Bassett was the head of the Texas Forensic Science Commission set to hear a report critical of the arson ruling that led to Willingham's execution. Gov. Rick Perry replaced him with Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who then canceled the hearing.
"The reluctance to reexamine that doesn't make sense to me because the science is the science, and if we make improvements in the science, why not use what we've learned? And I just don't understand the attitude of not going back and looking at old evidence using new science," Bassett said.
In Michael Morton's case, for more than six years, his attorneys were seeking the DNA testing that eventually set him free, but DA Bradley blocked that testing.
"It's a problem. I don't know if it's a problem with the budgets. I don't know if it's a problem with the attitudes,” Bassett said. “But it seems to me that if you have a chance that physical evidence could impact the review of an old case, you should do the testing expeditiously."
John Bradley told YNN by phone Tuesday that he couldn’t comment on future allegations of other non-DNA evidence being withheld.
Bradley also said he was not the prosecutor at the time of this case in 1986.
Under Texas law, Morton could be eligible for a lump sum payment from the state of up to $2 million, and an additional annuity of up to another $2 million.
Before he's eligible, Morton must be acquitted in court, pardoned by the governor or the prosecutor must dismiss charges against him.