State Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson has appointed Fort Worth Judge Louis E. Sturns to oversee the court of inquiry into whether former Williamson County DA Ken Anderson broke the law when he sent Michael Morton, an innocent man, to prison back in 1987.
Sturns, 62, is something of a legend in Texas legal circles. He was born and raised in Rusk County and is an Army vet, a father, and grandfather. He is a pioneer–the first African-American to serve on the state’s highest criminal court, the Court of Criminal Appeals, which he did from 1990-91. (Jefferson was the first African-American to serve on the Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court.) Sturns is also the first African-American to be a criminal court judge in Tarrant County.
Fort Worth defense attorney Terri Moore, who spent several years as an assistant DA in Dallas County, knows Sturns well. “He’s a well-respected man, a good lawyer, and a fair judge,” she says. How will Sturns approach a case such as this, with credible accusations of serious misconduct on the part of a prosecutor? “I think he would be appalled at conduct unbecoming of a prosecutor,” says Moore. Is this because of his long tenure as a defense lawyer? “No, it’s not just that. I think he’s got a real fine understanding of all the roles of the folks involved and how they are supposed to perform their duties.”
What happens next in this long, complicated story that began back in 1986 when a young woman was murdered and Anderson focused on her husband as the killer? According to the Code of Criminal Procedure, the DA of Tarrant County, Joe Shannon, “shall assist” Sturns in conducting the court of inquiry. Shannon will “examine witnesses and evidence admitted before the court to determine if an offense has been committed and shall render other assistance to the judge as is necessary in the proceeding.” How Sturns works with Shannon, who is well known in his own right as a diligent prosecutor, may go a long way in determining the outcome of the court of inquiry.
No date has been set for the proceedings, which will be open to the public.