In 2011, DNA results completely exonerated Michael Morton as the killer of his wife. Morton had spent nearly 25 years in the Texas prison system because of the wrongful conviction.
Former Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley was directly responsible for the last six years of Morton’s imprisonment as he strenuously opposed the DNA testing in the case in order to protect his former boss and mentor, Ken Anderson—the man who knowingly violated the Brady Rule by withholding the favorable evidence that ultimately exonerated Morton.
Bradley Tarnished by Role in Michael Morton Case
As the Morton case unraveled, and Bradley’s role in it became clear, the once powerful district attorney had a hard time finding gainful employment in the legal community he once stood so tall in.
Desperate men do desperate things.
In 2014, Bradley applied for and was hired as Attorney General of Palau, a small country of 21,000 in the Pacific islands and a former U.S. territory that was granted its independence in 1994.
But why Palau?
A U.S. State Department “Executive Summary” describes the island nation as a “constitutional republic” whose president, vice presidents, and legislators are elected to four-year terms.
The State Department also reports that the nation’s most significant human rights problems lie in government corruption and its abusive treatment of foreign workers.
Pesky Right to Jury Limited
Perhaps Bradley’s decision to crash land in Palau lies in the nation’s corrupt justice system. The right to a jury trial was not recognized until 2010 after an amendment to the nation’s constitution which is patterned after the U.S. Constitution. This right applies only to defendants facing a prison sentence of 12 or more years.
In his piece “The Rights and Liberties of the Palau Constitution,” Kevin Bernardo, who clerked for the Supreme Court for ten years, pointed to a 1991 decision by the court which expressed the historical disdain for jury trials by pointing out that “there have never been jury trials in Palau.” Bernardo pointed out that this decision involved a murder trial with a defendant facing a life sentence plus ten years. He added that this decision “eviscerate[d] any due process right to a jury trial in any criminal proceeding.”
Drags Outdated “Open File” Policy
With respect to discovery procedures, the Supreme Court in 2000 did urge the Attorney General’s Office to create an “open file” policy that would permit the sharing of “non-privileged” information with the defense. Although adopting the U.S. “Brady Rule,” Palau courts have a history of finding no violation of due process when evidence is withheld in criminal cases.
That certainly appealed to Bradley who has always viewed the Brady Rule as a constitutional irritant that had no place in criminal prosecutions.
The Palau Constitution, like the U.S. Constitution, also prohibits “torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment” as well as “excessive fines.”
Bonus! Cruel and Unusual Punishment
And like the U.S. prison system, Palau’s penal system routinely violates the prohibitions against cruel and inhumane punishment.
In 2014, just after Bradley became Attorney General, a leading court in Palau ruled that solitary confinement at the Koror Jail, the nation’s main penal facility, violated the constitutional guarantee to be free of “torture, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Attorney General Bradley was responsible for seeing that this decision was enforced. He did not. Officials at the Koror Jail ignored the court order and continued to use its inhumane solitary confinement to punish inmates.
Inhumane Solitary Confinement
And just how inhumane is the jail’s solitary confinement?
Inmates are kept in a “dark room” in which they are forced to use the bathroom in bottles and bags that are almost never cleaned. The room has no sink or toilet. The only ventilation comes from a small opening in the door. There are no beds, or light, or drains in the room. While jail policy requires that inmates be let out of this cell one hour each day, it generally occurs only once a week. Whether or not an inmate is let out of his cell to shower depends upon available jail manpower.
As part of these court proceedings, the judge, along with Attorney General Bradley and the attorneys representing the inmates, visited the jail to personally view the conditions of solitary confinement.
In a subsequent 30-page ruling, the judge ruled that the dark room was “near total darkness.” He pointed out other horrible conditions he witnessed: accumulation of trash, dark wet magazine pages, soiled clothing, water bottles filled with urine, and a stench of urine and feces that was “overpowering.”
Attorney General Bradley saw the same conditions.
Horrible Conditions? What Horrible Conditions?
And as he did in the Morton case, Bradley not only refuse to halt this injustice, he fought in court to keep it in place.
This past January another judge was forced to intervene where Bradley didn’t. The judge ordered the nation’s Division of Corrections to stop housing inmates in the dark room while court challenges are pending—something Bradley should have done.
So John Bradley is now in a place where there is little historical respect for the right to a jury trial, where the Brady Rule is routinely ignored, and where inhumane treatment of penal inmates is tolerated by the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
Bradley continues to defend the use of the “dark room” as a form of punishment and as a deterrent to others.
What’s that about a leopard can never change its spots?