During the 82nd Texas legislative session, Senate Bill 1611, also known as the Michael Morton Act, passed with a unanimous vote in both the Texas House and Senate. The SB 1611 requires the state prosecution to offer defense attorneys any evidence that is relevant to their case. In 1987, Michael Morton was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. It took 25 years, but Morton was exonerated in 2011 after DNA evidence proved his innocence. With the help of the Political Science Department, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department and the College of Criminal Justice, and the Student Legal & Mediation Services, The LEAP Center brought Michael Morton to SHSU to talk about his experience of wrongful conviction and his life imprisonment for nearly 25 years.
LEAP Center students were privileged to meet with Morton’s prior to his general speech.
It was a great chance to ask questions and get some insight into his nightmare. In this small group discussion, Morton stressed the importance of his faith and how everyone experiences difficult trials throughout their life. One of Morton’s main points conveyed to students that we are stronger than we think we are and that we will come out of the hard times. Looking back, we will realize we needed trial to shape who we are supposed become.
Morton’s humility and gratitude for (almost) everyone who has been a part of his journey is inspiring. Students were thankful for the opportunity to converse with Michael Morton on a variety of topics relevant to both Michael Morton’s experiences and students’ lives. Ending the student small group session, Morton signed copies of his book, Getting Life, for those in attendance.
More than 300 students and community members then attended Morton’s presentation, making this the largest event LEAP has hosted thus far this year.
Especially interesting to Huntsville residents, Morton spent more than 11 years at the Wynne Unit where he received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Sam Houston. Indeed, Morton was taught by Jerry Bruce, whom he had a chance to visit with prior to his presentation.
Morton also got to meet Walter Bennett, Jr., whose father did more than anyone else in the past 35 years to ensure inmates had access to University education. Dr. Bennett also taught Morton in the 1990s.
Later, Morton transferred to the Ramsey Unit in Houston where he earned his master’s degree in English from the University of Houston.
Morton’s story of tragedy is unimaginable and heartbreaking. Morton was imprisoned for nearly 25 years before DNA testing provided by the Innocence Project proved his innocence. One of the most surprising parts of Morton’s story is his forgiveness towards the prosecution who withheld evidence that would have originally proved Morton’s innocence. Overall, Michael Morton’s story is incredible, heart breaking, unimaginable, and inspiring.
Following the presentation, Morton signed books. Approximately 65 people bought books, making this the largest book sale Barnes and Noble has had in four years.
After the lengthy book signing, the LEAP Center had a reception in the Holcombe Room, where lawyers and LEAP Center Advisory students, and others congregated and snacked…
…and discussed law…
and, of course, took more photographs!
The LEAP Center is thankful to the College of Criminal Justice, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the Political Science Department, the Student Legal & Mediation Services, and most importantly Michael Morton for sharing his story with the community. We are saddened that such a tragedy occurred, thankful for the opportunity to learn from Mr. Morton, and hopeful that because of Michael Morton’s hard work and SB 1611 the unthinkable will never happen to another in Texas.
The LEAP Center would also like to thank Paul Olle and Ashley Norwood for the great photographs they took!
To learn more about Michael Morton’s story, “An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story” is available on Netflix and his book Getting Life is available through Barnes and Noble Bookstore.