If you read Texas Monthly last month, chances are you were riveted by the first installment of “The Innocent Man,” a remarkable two-part story by executive editor Pamela Colloff about the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of Michael Morton. As many people are by now well aware, Morton spent 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit—the brutal 1986 murder of his wife, Christine. A little over a year ago, he was released from prison and fully exonerated. His heartbreaking story has since been the subject of numerous newspaper articles and several reports on NPR and 60 Minutes . Our own version is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it is long. So long that we had to serialize it over two issues, something we haven’t done for any article since the eighties. Added together, the two parts of “The Innocent Man” total around 28,000 words, making it the longest article Texas Monthly has ever published. (An e-book version will be available on December 1.)
Thanks in part to that length, as well as to a truly staggering feat of reporting, this article achieves a level of depth that is extremely rare. Though the basic contours of the Morton case are familiar to most readers, it is safe to say that no one, with the possible exception of Morton himself, has yet understood the story as they will after reading “The Innocent Man,” which draws on many months of passionate, grinding research. It is a testament not only to dogged reporting but to expert storytelling. The final article amounts to a map of one man’s tragedy, a clear representation of what exactly happened to Michael Morton.
Everyone should read this story. Of course, I feel that way about everything we publish, but it bears emphasizing in this case, because in some sense we are all a part of this miscarriage of justice. The legal system that keeps us safe and secure today is only an older and wiser version of the one that sent Morton to prison in 1987 (and that was fighting to keep Morton in prison as recently as last year). Part one of Pam’s story, having taken us all the way from Michael and Christine Morton’s first date to his trial and conviction, concluded with him lying down on his bunk for his first night behind bars. While all of us went on with our lives, he stayed there, night after night, week after week, year after year. To give you a sense of that time, the thirty days that you waited for part two of this story (which, based on the impatient tone of a few of the emails we received, seem to have passed slowly for some readers) is equal to 0.003 percent of the time that Morton spent in prison. Of course, he never had the advantage of knowing how the story turns out.