John Raley has been featured in Texas Monthly, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Houston Chronicle for his seven year pro bono fight to free an innocent man. In 1986, Michael Morton’s wife was brutally beaten to death by a home intruder while Michael was at work. His three year old son witnessed the murder and told his maternal grandmother (who told law enforcement) that a “big monster” with red (bloody) hands and a mustache killed his mother when “Daddy” was not home. The DA concealed this testimony and withheld other crucial evidence. Michael’s son was taken from him, and he was framed for murder with no valid evidence against him. Unknown at the time, a bandana found behind the house contained the blood of Michael’s wife and the DNA of the real killer. The new DA (hand-picked by the former DA) opposed all requests for DNA testing of the bloody bandana.
John and his co-counsel the New York based Innocence Project fought seven years in multiple courts to obtain DNA testing. When the results were eventually obtained, the State of Texas released Michael and declared him “actually innocent.” The DNA results identified real murderer, who was then at large. John and his co-counsel located him and informed law enforcement. The murderer was arrested, charged and eventually convicted. He is currently serving a life sentence. The DNA test results John fought for also solved, at John’s recommendation, another murder nearby which had been a “cold case” many years. As a result, the man who murdered Michael Morton’s wife was convicted in a second murder case.
The district attorney who fought John regarding DNA testing for seven years lost his job.
John and the Innocence Project pressed the State of Texas to conduct a rare Court of Inquiry into the conduct of the prosecutor who handled Michael’s trial in 1987, specifically regarding his concealing of evidence of Michael’s innocence (which had been found in the D.A.’s file using a Freedom of Information Act request). As a result, the prosecutor, who had become a senior district judge, lost his job and law license, and served time in jail for hiding evidence in a murder case. The latter result is the first in U.S. History. Michael Morton’s case inspired the Texas Legislature to pass “The Michael Morton Act,” which requires prosecutors to disclose their complete investigation to defense counsel.
Helping Michael Morton reconnect with his son and transition into society is one of John’s most rewarding accomplishments as an attorney. Michael and John have been interviewed by 60 Minutes, Katie Couric, NPR and CNN. The case is the subject of a documentary (available on Netflix and Amazon) called “An Unreal Dream: The Story of Michael Morton.” Michael’s book about his experience, entitled “Getting Life,” is available on Amazon and at major bookstores.
In 2012, the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association created a new annual award, the “Spirit of Justice.” The first such award was given to John in recognition of his work on Michael Morton’s case. The Texas Center for Legal Ethics did its first “Profile in Professionalism” on John, and the Brazos County Bar called him “a real life Atticus Finch.” In recognition of his long quest for justice on behalf of an innocent man, John was given the 2012-2013 “Service to Humanity Award” by Rotary District 5890 (clubs of metropolitan Houston), and was given a 2013 Texas Bar Association Presidential Citation.