It is hard to even imagine the horror of coming home to find your beloved wife brutally murdered while your young son watched. It is even harder to imagine what it must have been like to then be questioned by the police, accused of killing the love of your life, convicted, and be sentenced to spend the rest of your life in prison. To lose not only your wife, but your son, your freedom. And then to learn that the person who murdered your wife killed another person while you were sitting in prison.
But that is what happened to Michael Morton. As he describes in his memoir Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-year Journey from Prison to Peace, he spent almost twenty-five years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Prosecutors and police lied, suppressed evidence, failed to turn over exculpatory evidence, failed to search for any evidence that was inconsistent with their theory that Michael Morton killed his wife. And then fought like hell to keep this innocent man in prison.
I have never met Michael Morton, but I am quite familiar with the police and prosecutors who wrongfully convicted him. They are the same men who wrongfully convicted one of my clients (Henry Lee Lucas – the first and only person sentenced to death who was granted clemency by then Governor George W. Bush) and cavalierly ignored the rules of ethics and the rules of law.
No review can adequately describe the nightmare that Michael Morton lived for a quarter of a century. And no one who has not been wrongfully convicted can ever understand the depths of despair he felt over the years. The only good fortune Mr. Morton received over those years was Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project taking on his case and doggedly pursuing justice. That they were successful does not mean that the system worked. That the prosecutor (Ken Anderson) was eventually convicted of contempt of court and stripped of his license to practice law does not mean that prosecutors are being held accountable – Anderson spent a mere 7 days in jail despite the finding that his actions in the Morton case were not only unethical but illegal.
The most amazing part of this book is that Michael Morton’s spirit was not crushed. He remains positive and hopeful and has begun building a new life, establishing a relationship with his son and learning to love again. The grace he displays is phenomenal -his release from prison was redemptive. And yet, the system – our ‘criminal justice’ system, our society – owes him so much more.