GEORGETOWN, Texas (AP) — A former Texas prosecutor charged over a wrongful murder conviction agreed to a 10-day jail sentence Friday, accepting the punishment in front of the innocent man he helped put in prison for nearly 25 years.
Ken Anderson also will be disbarred and must serve 500 hours of community service as part of a sweeping deal that was expected to end all criminal and civil cases against the former district attorney, who was the face of the law in a tough-on-crime Texas county for 30 years.
Anderson, 61, never spoke in his return to the same Williamson County courthouse where he served as a judge for 11 years before resigning in September.
Sitting behind Anderson in the gallery was Michael Morton, who was released from prison in 2011 after DNA evidence showed he didn't beat his wife to death in 1986.
"It's a good day," said Morton, surrounded by family members.
Asked if he felt satisfaction in watching the role reversal — Anderson at the defense table, waiting to be put behind bars — Morton took the high road.
"It was one of those necessary evils, or distasteful requirements that you have to do in life," he said. Morton didn't dwell on the length of the jail sentence, saying the punishment "or lack thereof" was as much as the legal system could dole out at this time.
Anderson entered a plea of no contest to contempt of court. The charge stemmed from a 1987 exchange when Anderson, then the Williamson County district attorney, was asked by a judge whether he had anything to offer that was favorable to Morton's defense. He said no.
But among the evidence Morton's attorneys claim was kept from them were statements from Morton's then-3-year-old son, who witnessed the killing and said his father wasn't responsible. There were also interviews with neighbors who told authorities they saw another man near the Morton home before the slaying.
Judge Kelly Moore said Friday the case against Anderson revealed a difficulty in determining justice.
"There is no way that anything we can do here today can resolve the tragedy that occurred in these matters," Moore said. "I'd like to say to Mr. Morton, the world is a better place because of you."
Anderson must report to the Williamson County jail by Dec. 2. Morton's attorneys acknowledged Anderson could serve as few as four days with good behavior and time already served. A judge had ordered Anderson's arrest in April on the contempt and tampering charges.
He faced up to 10 years in prison if found guilty on the tampering charges, but prosecutors said statues of limitations made it a difficult conviction to pursue.
Anderson has previously apologized to Morton for what he called failures in the system but has said he believes there was no misconduct.
Eric Nichols, Anderson's attorney, made it a point to say in court Friday that his client "has not been convicted, and will not be convicted, of any criminal offense."
Morton's attorneys announced afterward there will be an audit of all cases previously handled by Anderson to look for other alleged misconduct.
Since being freed, Morton has become a visible embodiment of problems in the legal system in Texas, which leads the nation in prisoners set free by DNA testing — 117 in the last 25 years. Earlier this year, the former Republican chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court urged lawmakers to act on the issue.
Morton was a regular presence at the Texas Capitol this spring and helped push through the Michael Morton Act, which helps compel prosecutors to share files with defense attorneys that can help defendants' cases.
Morton said his only goal since being freed was to get Anderson off the bench and make sure he'll never practice law again. Now that both have been accomplished, Morton said he didn't know what's next.
"It's kind of like winning the Super Bowl. The next day is like, 'Now what?' Morton said. "We'll see."
Associated Press writer Will Weissert in Austin contributed to this report.
Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber