Athens Review, Athens, Texas

December 10, 2013

Obstacles removed, DA approves

McKee in favor of law designed to prevent abuses in system

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee believes a new law designed to remove obstacles to accessing evidence can help prevent abuses such as the ones that sent Michael Morton to prison for 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit.

Governor Rick Perry signed Texas Senate Bill 1611 into law in May. The legislation, also referred to as the Michael Morton Act takes effect Jan. 1.

McKee said his office has long had an open file policy as a voluntary supplement to statutory discovery requirements.

“We show them our cards and we’ve always done that,” McKee said.

McKee said often the policy works in the favor of his prosecution efforts.

“Really, what it does for a defense attorney is gives them ammunition to talk to their clients and say ‘Look, they’ve got you dead to rights,’’’ McKee said. “It certainly hasn’t affected our conviction rate. Our conviction rate is outstanding.”

McKee said he taught a three-hour case study on the Michael Morton case and what can go wrong when exculpatory evidence is not turned over to the defense to a group of new detectives at the police academy in Kilgore last month. 

McKee said his stance has not been popular with some of his colleagues from other counties.

“I have been on my soap box about Michael Morton and the unfair treatment he received at the hands of former Williamson County DA and Judge Ken Anderson and Anderson’s successor to the DA’s office, John Bradley,” McKee said. “These two gentleman did more to undermine the credibility of the justice system in Texas than anyone ever.  In short, a totally innocent man went to prison for 25 years for the murder of his wife that he did not commit. It is a tragic story of a prosecutor who wanted to win at all costs.”

Anderson was ultimately convicted for his conduct and resigned as a judge.

Bradley was voted out of office.

 McKee said the new DA of Williamson County is reviewing all of their prior cases to see if she finds any other instances of prosecutor misconduct.

“I hope she prosecutes them to the full extent of the law if she finds any others,” McKee said.

Records made available though McKee’s policy include items like offense reports, in-car video, lab reports, written witness statements and transcripts of witness statements.

In addition, the defense may inspect all items seized, collected, or expected to be offered into evidence that are in the possession of the State or one of its law enforcement agencies.

All promises of benefit or leniency given to any prospective witness in exchange for their testimony are also provided under policy.