AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas judge facing criminal charges over prosecuting a man who spent 25 years in prison for a killing he didn't commit resigned Tuesday as he awaits trial over whether he concealed evidence as a district attorney in the 1980s.
State District Judge Ken Anderson wrote in a one-sentence letter to Gov. Rick Perry that he was stepping down immediately from his Williamson County court. In a statement later released through his attorney, Anderson did not allude to his criminal case.
"There comes a time when every public official must decide that it is time to leave public life," Anderson said. "For me and my family, that time is now. For the foreseeable future I will be focused solely on making the transition into private life."
Before Perry appointed him as a judge in 2002, Anderson was the district attorney in Williamson County and prosecuted Michael Morton in 1987 for murder in his wife's slaying. Morton always proclaimed his innocence, and he was exonerated in 2011 based on DNA evidence.
In April, a special court of inquiry determined that Anderson intentionally concealed evidence favorable to Morton's defense. A former U.S. attorney is now leading the prosecution against Morton on charges of criminal contempt of court, tampering with evidence and tampering with government records.
A trial date has not been set. If convicted, Anderson could face 10 years in prison.
Morton's attorney called the resignation overdue. Anderson is also facing a lawsuit that accuses him of professional misconduct.
"Judge Anderson deserves a fair trial, but if there are findings against him in either proceeding, we would expect that appropriate penalties be imposed," said Barry Scheck and John Raley, Morton's attorneys, in a joint statement.
Anderson has apologized to Morton for what he called failures in the system but said he believes there was no misconduct in the case.
Christine Morton was beaten to death in the family's north Austin home in 1986. Another man earlier this year was convicted of her killing and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Among the evidence Morton's attorneys claim was kept from them during his trial were statements from Morton's then-3-year-old son, who witnessed the killing and said his father wasn't responsible. They also said they didn't know about interviews with neighbors who told authorities they saw a man park a green van close to the Morton home and walk into a nearby wooded area before the slaying.
Anderson's most recent four-year term as judge was due to end next year.
"On behalf of the citizens of Texas, I extend my appreciation and gratitude for your service to the State of Texas and wish you all the best in your future endeavors," Perry wrote in accepting Anderson's resignation. Lucy Nashed, a Perry spokeswoman, described the language in the letter as boilerplate.