Brandi Grissom, Texas Tribune

Reporter with The Texas Tribune

Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.

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Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout. 

CARTHAGE — On Tuesday, more than 17 years after Bernie Tiede shot 81-year-old Marjorie Nugent in the back and tucked her body under potpies in a deep freezer, a judge released him on bond, agreeing with lawyers that his life sentence should be reduced.

But his release comes with strict conditions, among them that he live in the Austin garage apartment of his moviemaking benefactor, Richard Linklater, and receive counseling for sexual abuse.

State district Judge Diane DeVasto agreed to allow Tiede's release after she heard evidence that sexual abuse he suffered as a child contributed to his crime and after a psychiatrist said Tiede would not pose a danger to society.

Caleb Bryant Miller for Texas Tribune

Last year, lawmakers approved and Gov.Rick Perry signed a bill that requires adetailed review of the use of solitary confinement in Texas prisons.

Four months after the measure became law, though, the committee charged with hiring an independent party to study solitary confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice hasn’t met and has no intention to.

Texas Tribune

Sources close to state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, say she is poised to make an announcement on her political future on Friday. But the likely Democratic contender for lieutenant governor is expected to do what gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis did: reveal a future date for a formal announcement.

“I can't think of somebody who would be a better lieutenant governor for Texas," Democratic consultant Glenn Smith said. "With her legislative experience, the deep care she has for Texas and its future, her work ethic, her honesty, I mean she’d be darn near perfect.”

If Van de Putte throws her name in, she'd be the only Democrat seeking the post currently held by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is facing a Republican primary challenge from state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.  

Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

Williamson County state district Judge Ken Anderson, who oversaw the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton in 1987, submitted a letter to Gov. Rick Perry on Monday resigning his position effective immediately.

Anderson is facing both civil and criminal court proceedings for his role in prosecuting Morton for the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton. Attorneys for Morton allege that Anderson withheld critical evidence that pointed to Morton's innocence and that he lied to the judge about the existence of that evidence. Morton was sentenced to life in prison and spent nearly 25 years behind bars before DNA testing revealed that he was innocent and connected another man to his wife's killing. He was released from prison in 2011.

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune

A fight over what defense lawyers can do with information about their clients in criminal cases after prosecutors turn it over to them is threatening to stymie the “Michael Morton Act.” 

The measure, Senate Bill 1611 by state Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, would require prosecutors to turn over evidence to defense lawyers in criminal cases. Currently, prosecutors aren't required to provide evidence to defense lawyers unless ordered to by the court, though many Texas prosecutors have some form of open file policy.

Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

SAN ANGELO — Family members of Christine Morton and Debra Baker filled a Tom Green County courtroom with tearful hugs and relieved smiles on Wednesday after a jury found Mark Alan Norwood guilty of murder.

Norwood, 58, received an automatic life sentence after the jury decided he was guilty of the Aug. 13, 1986 killing of Christine Morton, who was beaten to death in her North Austin home. 

Spencer Selvidge

Mark Norwood, charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton — a crime that her husband, Michael Morton, was wrongfully convicted of — will go on trial Monday in San Angelo.

Michael Morton had spent nearly a quarter-century behind bars before DNA testing exonerated him in 2011 and connected Norwood, a 58-year-old former Bastrop dishwasher, to the beating death.

Texas Tribune

Taking a lesson from the high-profile exoneration of Michael Morton, state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, filed a bill Tuesday that aims to ensure more accountability for prosecutors who are accused of withholding evidence that results in a wrongful conviction.

"It's an effort to have accountability and transparency and to make the system more fair," Whitmire said, adding that he believes the measure will pass.

Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

Defiant, angry and frustrated, former prosecutor Ken Anderson took the stand on Friday to defend himself, ending a week of dramatic testimony in an usual court of inquiry that is examining whether the former district attorney committed criminal misconduct during the trial that led to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton.

Morton was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for his wife’s murder, and he spent nearly 25 years behind bars before DNA evidence led to his exoneration in 2011. Lawyers for the exoneree contend that Anderson deliberately withheld critical evidence that could have prevented Morton’s wrongful conviction. Anderson adamantly denied any wrongdoing, and in his often impassioned testimony criticized the court of inquiry. 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

There are some 20,000 untested rape kits sitting on evidence shelves in police departments across Texas, the state Department of Public Safety estimates.

Each box with samples of hair, skin and clothing represents one of the worst moments of the victim’s life, a crime that was followed by hours in a doctor’s office submitting the most personal evidence.

Justin Dehn / Callie Richmond via Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — The court of inquiry that will determine whether the former prosecutor who oversaw the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton could face criminal charges will be delayed until Feb. 4, a prosecutor with the Texas attorney general’s office said Monday.

Mark Norwood, the Bastrop dishwasher who was arrested one year ago for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on Friday for the January 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin.

“It has been excruciating for all of us who loved Debra to wait for this day. Now, we finally have a face to put with her tragic murder,” Baker’s family said in a statement released by attorney Sam Bassett.

Norwood's attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., said his client maintains his innocence in both cases. Hunt said Norwood's mother had been subpoenaed to testify before a Travis County grand jury on Friday morning. 

"There's only one reason why" that would happen, he said. "That's if they intend to indict him."

Callie Richmond via Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — Williamson County State District Judge Ken Anderson sat with his back to the audience in court Tuesday as lawyers discussed how the court of inquiry examining his role in the 1987 wrongful conviction ofMichael Morton ought to proceed.

"We are trying our darndest to get ready," said Eric Nichols, Anderson's lawyer and a former prosecutor with the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Williamson County Sheriffs Office

Williamson County sheriff's investigators have arrested Steven Alan Thomas, 53, in the 1980 murder of Mildred McKinney, the agency announced Tuesday.

McKinney was 73 when her daughter found her dead in her Williamson County duplex, where she lived alone. She had been beaten, strangled and raped. The murderer stacked a recliner, end table and vacuum cleaner on her head and chest.

The sheriff's office learned that DNA from the nearly 32-year-old murder scene matched Thomas on June 27, and additional testing of DNA collected from Thomas on July 5 also matched the DNA found at the murder scene. Analysis of a fingerprint from the scene of the murder also belonged to Thomas. 

via Texas Tribune

Texas will join a handful of states that use a single drug in lethal injections, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced Tuesday. 

"Implementing the change in protocol at this time will ensure that the agency is able to fulfill its statutory responsibility for all executions currently scheduled," TDCJ spokesman Jason Clark said in an email.

Photo by Caleb Bryant MIller/Texas Tribune

Reversing its decade-long objection to testing that death row inmate Hank Skinner says could prove his innocence, the Texas Attorney General's office today filed an advisory with the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals seeking to test DNA in the case. 

"Upon further consideration, the State believes that the interest of justice would best be served by DNA testing the evidence requested by Skinner and by testing additional items identified by the state," lawyers for the state wrote in the advisory.

Skinner, now 50, was convicted in 1995 of the strangulation and beating death of his girlfriend Twila Busby and the stabbing deaths of her two adult sons on New Year’s Eve 1993 in Pampa. Skinner maintains he is innocent and was unconscious on the couch at the time of the killings, intoxicated from a mixture of vodka and codeine.

Photo courtesy of Sam Houston State University

Cherie Townsend, the executive director of the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, announced Tuesday that she will retire at the end of June after nearly four years leading the state's institutions for youth offenders.

In an email sent Tuesday morning to agency staff, Townsend wrote that in the last couple of months, as the agency has struggled to deal with reports of increasing violence and safety concerns at the state's youth lockups, her "values and principles related to best practices in juvenile justice" have detracted from "the mission and work of the agency."

Photo illustration by Brandi Grissom and Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Michael Morton’s name isn’t on the ballot, and he isn’t endorsing anyone in what has become a nasty campaign to become the next district attorney in tough-on-crime Williamson County. 

But his wrongful conviction is the central issue in the GOP primary fight between incumbent District Attorney John Bradley — who spent five years opposing DNA testing that ultimately exonerated Morton — and County Attorney Jana Duty.

While Morton may be staying out of the fray, many close to his case have decided to get involved, hoping, they say, to change the way justice is meted out in Williamson County by urging voters to hold Bradley accountable.

Photo by Spencer Selvidge, Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — Attorneys for the Texas attorney general's office today asked Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes to issue a gag order in the case of Mark Alan Norwood, the 57-year-old Bastrop resident who is facing trial in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.

"There exists an ongoing serious and imminent threat to the integrity of the administration of justice in these causes as a result of such extrajudicial statements," Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner wrote in the motion seeking to silence parties in the case.

Judge Barnes said he would take the motion under advisement.

Photo by Spencer Selvidge, Texas Tribune

Tarrant County state district Judge Louis Sturns will lead a court of inquiry to investigate allegations of criminal prosecutorial misconduct against former prosecutor Ken Anderson, who saw to the wrongful murder conviction of Michael Morton in 1987.

Morton was exonerated of his wife's 1986 bludgeoning death in October after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Defense lawyers have alleged that the wrongful conviction would not have happened and Morton would not have lost 25 years in prison if Anderson, who is now a Williamson County judge, had not deliberately withheld evidence that indicated his innocence at the time of the 1987 trial.

“This is a historic moment for Texas justice," said John Raley, the Houston lawyer who has worked pro bono on Morton's case for seven years. "We are confident that Judge Sturns will handle this important case with the seriousness and probity demonstrated by Judge [Sid] Harle and [Texas Supreme Court] Justice [Wallace] Jefferson.”

Photo by Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

GEORGETOWN — Judge Sid Harle said today he will recommend that Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson convene a court of inquiry to review a slew of evidence against former Williamson County prosecutor Ken Anderson and determine whether there is probable cause to press criminal charges of prosecutorial misconduct related to his work in 1987 to secure a wrongful murder conviction that sent Michael Morton to prison for life.

In addition to allowing a full public airing of the evidence, the Bexar County state district judge said the unique legal proceeding would allow Anderson, who is now a district judge, the opportunity to clear his name.

“The only method and venue I know of for that to occur and for Mr. Morton’s interests to be served” is a court of inquiry, Harle said.

Photo by Spencer Selvidge/Texas Tribune

A Williamson County grand jury today returned a capital murder indictment against 57-year-old Bastrop resident Mark Alan Norwood in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced.

“An indictment in a cold case cannot bring back the life that was unnecessarily taken, but this is a big step toward answering long unresolved questions for the crime victim’s family,” Abbott said in a press release.

Image courtesy Texas Tribune

As 2011 comes to a close, we are taking a look back at the stories our readers liked best, judging by the number of pageviews they received.

With our governor jumping into the GOP presidential fray in August, stories about Rick Perry quickly and definitively became the most popular on the Trib site. And he didn't fail to provide excellent material. Seven of the 10 most-read stories this year are about Perry — his politics, his past and his policy stances.

Photo by Justin Dehn, Texas Tribune

The Texas Coalition on Lawyer Accountability filed grievances with the State Bar of Texas on Monday against former Williamson County District Attorney Ken Anderson, his former assistant Mike Davis and current District Attorney John Bradley, alleging that the prosecutors violated state laws and professional ethics in the case against Michael Morton.

Morton was released last month after spending nearly 25 years in prison, wrongfully convicted of murdering his wife in 1986. Morton's lawyers have discovered that prosecutors did not turn over to defense attorneys or the trial judge evidence that pointed to another man as the murderer and could have prevented the wrongful conviction.

The State Bar would not confirm receipt of the grievances, but the agency said last month that it had launched its own investigation of prosecutorial misconduct in the case. Morton's lawyers are also pursuing their own investigation of alleged wrongdoing.

Photo courtesy of Texas Tribune

A suspect whose DNA has been linked to the 1986 murder of Christine Morton and the 1988 murder of Debra Baker is on his way to the Williamson County Jail, according to John Raley, attorney for Michael Morton. Morton was exonerated of his wife's murder last month, based on the DNA evidence that showed someone else committed the crime. 

Almost everything that Caitlin and Jesse Baker know about their mother, who was mysteriously murdered 23 years ago when they were small children, comes from memories shared by relatives and from fading family photos of the smiling, petite brunette.

Over the years, aunts and uncles told them stories about their protective and generous sister. Their father recalled the loving wife who seemed to live in her pink sweat suit. Their grandmother shared pictures of their mother’s favorite horse, Molly, and tattered newspaper clippings of articles she wrote as a student journalist.

But no one has been able to answer the question that has tormented the Baker children for years: Who entered their North Austin home on Jan. 13, 1988, and beat Debra Masters Baker to death?

Photo illustration by Todd Wiseman

GEORGETOWN — With an irrepressible grin, Michael Morton walked out of the Williamson County courthouse today, hand-in-hand with his sister Vicky Warlick, into a free world he last saw when Ronald Reagan was president.

Morton was released today from the Michael state prison unit near Palestine in East Texas, a day after his defense lawyers and Williamson County prosecutors agreed that his conviction for the 1986 murder of his wife Christine Morton should be overturned based on the results of recent DNA testing.

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Michael Morton, who served 25 years in prison for the murder of his wife Christine, will be released after his attorneys reached an agreement with prosecutors, who said today in a legal filing that Morton was not his wife's killer.

Prosecutors conceded that there is evidence of Morton's "actual innocence." 

Image courtesy flickr.com/BizarreRecords

The long-standing tradition of allowing death row inmates one last special meal of their choosing before they enter the execution chamber ends today, said Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

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