After spending nearly 25 years in prison, 56-year-old Michael Morton walked out of the Williamson County Courthouse Tuesday afternoon as a free man .
Morton was convicted of murdering his wife, Christine, in 1987. Just recently, new DNA evidence released him from the crime.
After traveling from an East Texas prison to Georgetown for Tuesday's hearing, Morton was all smiles in the courtroom as he sat with his attorneys from the Innocence Project and his original trial lawyer, Bill Allison.
When the judge officially announced Morton’s release, the crowd erupted with applause and gave the newly-free man a standing ovation.
"Thank God this wasn't a capital case, that I only had life because it gave the saints here and the Innocence Project time to do this," Morton said.
Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was not present for Morton’s release.
For five years, Bradley stood in the way of DNA testing on a bandana found near the crime scene, until the 3rd Court of Appeals of Texas got involved. In June, DNA test results showed the victim’s blood and hair on the bandana. On the other side was DNA from an unknown male. Then in August, that evidence was matched to the unsolved 1988 Travis County murder of Debra Jan Baker.
Travis County officials believe the Christine Morton murder could be tied to the Debra Baker murder -- a crime Morton couldn't have committed, since he was in prison. They are referring to the person with the DNA match as "John Doe" since investigations are ongoing.
"We have very troubling indications in the records that we have and those that we may still be getting that there were serious and important leads to the person that actually committed this crime that were not pursued and may in those last 25 years gone cold," Nina Morrison with the Innocence Project said.
Some of the evidence the defense says was buried by Williamson County included a credit card used two days after the Morton murder, a check cashed nine days after the murder and a tape-recorded conversation between the victim’s mother and sheriffs’ deputies where she said her grandson had witnessed a "monster" murder his mother.
For Morton's parents, faith and truth is what brought their son back home.
"We're so happy the truth finally came out and we're happy, happy, happy," Morton’s father, Billy Morton, said.