Rick Perry and John Bradley

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Back in 2007, the Grits for Breakfast blog noted that Williamson County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley gave some curious advice on a discussion board to another prosecutor. The other prosecutor was asking about how to construct a plea agreement in a way that would forfeit any future right to DNA testing. Bradley responded, “Innocence, though, has proven to trump most anything.” How unfortunate! He then added:

A better approach might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest. Harris County regularly seeks such agreements.

Destroying evidence is an odd way to seek justice, especially given how many “slam dunk” cases and convictions based on false confessions have later been overturned after DNA testing.

I bring this up for a couple reasons. First, because Bradley is the DA involved in the pending DNA exoneration case I linked to this morning. And he’s accused of some pretty serious misconduct. From the article:

New DNA results, combined with evidence that was improperly withheld by Williamson County prosecutors for more than two decades, indicates that an Austin-area man has spent 24 years in jail for a murder he did not commit, a court filing alleged Wednesday.

Michael Morton, now 57, was convicted in the brutal beating death of his wife, Christine Morton, and sentenced to life in prison in 1987.

But a recent court-ordered DNA test, conducted on a blood-stained bandanna over the objections of Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, points instead to an unnamed California felon as the killer, according to court briefs filed by the Innocence Project of New York.

The court filing urged a Williamson County district judge to remove Bradley from the case, saying he cannot be trusted to oversee a reinvestigation of the killing because he has shown “unprofessional” animosity toward Michael Morton and his lawyers.

What’s more, the motion alleges, Bradley worked to keep a key piece of evidence hidden from Morton’s lawyers — a transcript of a police interview that shows the Mortons’ 3-year-old son witnessed his mother’s murder and said the attacker was not his father.

The second reason I bring this up takes us back to Texas Gov. Rick Perry. If you’ll remember, just before the Texas Forensic Science Commission was set to open up an investigation into the Cameron Todd Willingham case, Perry abruptly replaced three of the commissioners with nominees who were more friendly to prosecutors, all of whom opposed reopening the case.

One of the replacements Perry nominated was . . . you guessed it . . . Williamson County, Texas, District Attorney John Bradley.

(Thanks to reader Kevin Spencer and commenter “thefncrow” for the leads.)

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23 Responses to “Rick Perry and John Bradley”

  1. #1 |  buzz | 

    “A better approach might be to get a written agreement that all the evidence can be destroyed after the conviction and sentence. Then, there is nothing to test or retest. Harris County regularly seeks such agreements.”

    What possible legitimate reason can there be for even thinking of something like this? Money? The cost of storing evidence long term? Weighed against a innocent person spending years incarcerated?

  2. #2 |  Radley Balko | 

    What possible legitimate reason can there be for even thinking of something like this?


  3. #3 |  Justthisguy | 

    This is yet more proof that Perry is unfit for the office, as if cozying up to the Bilderbergers were not enough. I may have to change my registration from L to R in order to vote for Ron Paul in the primary.

  4. #4 |  Achtung Coma Baby | 

    Fuck Bradley in the neck!

  5. #5 |  Marty | 

    I’m with #4- this family was already horribly traumatized with the murder, then he steps in and makes it much worse… I wanna be on the lynching committee.

  6. #6 |  PersonFromPorlock | 

    Does anyone else think Perry looks like Joe Isuzu’s beefy brother?

  7. #7 |  Josh | 

    Any word on whatever happened to the Mortons’ son?

  8. #8 |  croaker | 

    This is why people build killdozers.

  9. #9 |  BamBam | 

    Other Perry items: forced Gardasil on teenage girls, support for the Trans Texas Corridor (which involved property theft … I mean eminent domain), support for expanded police fishing expeditions (such as roadblocks for various “safety” purposes), the list goes on and on.

  10. #10 |  Anga2010 | 

    I’ve lived in Texas most of my life and spent 15 of the last 20 years living in Austin. It’s well known in that part of Texas that Williamson County (just north of Austin’s Travis County) is as radically suppresive as Austin is liberal. “Keep Austin Weird” is what we say and “Keep the Weird south” is what Williamson County sayz. Here are a few simple rules we try to live by:
    1) Don’t drink in Williamson County
    2) Don’t smoke pot in Williamson County
    3) Don’t get pulled over in Williamson County
    4) Don’t be black in Williamson County
    5) Avoid Williamson County
    If you follow those simple rules, you’re much better off.

  11. #11 |  Whim | 

    Current Texas Governor Rick Perry seems to demonstrate a real blindspot when it concerns Actual Innocence of those potentially wrongfully incarcerated. I remember his predecessor George W. Bush had just as an intense of blindspot regarding the fairness of the judicial process concerning indigent defendants. Bush could not understand how county budgets failed to provide for adequate representation in serious felony, i.e. capital cases, as well as lack of investigation resources for the indigent, independent lab testing for indigent defendants, expert witnesses for defendants, etc.

    After Geo. W. Bush moved on to the White House, it was actually his successor Gov. Perry along with the State Legislature that began to clean up the total mess that Geo. W. Bush chose to blatantly ignore. Funding was found to provide a minimally adequate defense for indigent defendents.

    There still seems to be something really bad in the water in Texas causing amnesia for high level politicians and with the Prosecuting Attorneys (Dallas County excepted).

  12. #12 |  AlecN | 

    When his supporters say things like “it takes balls to execute an innocent man,” I can’t say I am likely to find anything else Perry does to help break the justice system particularly surprising.

    As a Texan, I feel that he has been an even worse governor than Bush. Aside from his meddling in the justice system, and the crony capitalism mentioned in post #9 (I can’t imagine he would have supported Gardasil if not for the personal connections with Merck – my guess is he would have argued that it would increase promiscuity), he’s done a number on the state education system. I’m just thankful his crusading school board appointees haven’t managed to force creationism into Texas schools thus far.

    @Anga2010 – thanks for the tip. I’ve lived in Austin for about a year (moved from San Antonio) and never spent much time in Williamson, and I’ve never heard the “Keep the weird south” quote, though it certainly seems applicable.

  13. #13 |  Luke | 

    I’ve heard this saying referring to Williamson County:
    “Arrived on Vacation, Left on Probation”

  14. #14 |  Bernard | 

    While this is horrifying, it’s also the logical consequence of turning the justice system into a game where each party has to try to win and on which their careers depend on doing so.

    In that context dna is a loose end that might create bad headlines for you years later. Getting rid of it is the prosecutorial equivalent of pre-emptively shredding documents or deleting emails even if they’re probably not incriminating to avoid any possible gremlins when you’re running for higher office.

    If you create a system where people need to behave callously and with no regard for justice in order to prosper then you guarantee that the senior positions will be entirely staffed by such people (because anyone who accidentally slips through the interview with an undetected conscience will certainly be weeded out of the junior ranks).

    The fact that most people (even, I’d hope, lawyers) are incapable of being amoral further explains why the calbire of DAs often seems so lacking. When you can only employ psychopaths you limit the pool of people to hire from.

  15. #15 |  Comrade Dread | 

    How about a law that states that if a prosecutor is shown to have withheld or deliberately destroyed exculpating evidence, he has to serve a sentence equal to the amount of time that the innocent man served?

  16. #16 |  fwb | 

    The 14th Amendment prohibit states from instituting immunity for public officers such as cops and DAs. The 14th is about unqualified equal protection and immunity makes it qualified.

    Next every prosecutor who is found to have doen any egregious act should be instantly sentenced to serve a term equal to that served by anyone whom the prosecutor has fucked over.

  17. #17 |  EH | 

    Comrade Dread is always good for inventing solutions that were outlawed centuries ago.

  18. #18 |  Comrade Dread | 

    I just think it’s time to get tough on crime in our criminal justice system. Maybe throw in a few midnight SWAT raids to arrest them too.

    Let government officials have a lovely karmic taste of the bitter medicine they want the rest of us to swallow.

  19. #19 |  Mike T | 

    In a just system, Bradley would be facing execution for such perversions of justice.

  20. #20 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    In a just system, Bradley would be facing execution for such perversions of justice.

    China? They seem to execute some corrupt politicians instead of promote and then retire with full pensions.

  21. #21 |  croaker | 

    @20 They also tend to execute those who speak out against those corrupt politicians.

  22. #22 |  NancyMacJ | 

    It appears from the recusal motion that Eric Morton was raised by his maternal grandmother in Pearland after his mother’s murder and his father’s incarceration. He’d be about 27 now.

  23. #23 |  Rick Perry and Criminal Justice | The Agitator | 

    […] just before they were about to begin their investigation. (Perry’s new appointments included one prosecutor who is now accused of misconduct in a DNA exoneration, and who once suggested another prosecutor […]