Jailhouse Informant In High-Profile Texas Murder Cases Comes Under New Scrutiny
When Steven Shockey was arrested at a San Diego port of entry in December 2011, he knew his luck had run out. The 52-year-old was trying to re-enter the United States after jumping bail and fleeing to Mexico because of an arrest in Williamson County, Texas, for the aggravated assault of his ex-wife. Because of […]
Max Rivlin-Nadler Mar 30, 2018
When Steven Shockey was arrested at a San Diego port of entry in December 2011, he knew his luck had run out. The 52-year-old was trying to re-enter the United States after jumping bail and fleeing to Mexico because of an arrest in Williamson County, Texas, for the aggravated assault of his ex-wife.
Because of his long criminal record — which included state and federal arrests and convictions in both Texas and California — Shockey was eligible for Texas’s “habitual offender enhancement,” which could have landed him a maximum sentence of life or 99 years in prison instead of a maximum of 20 years for the second-degree felony.
Shockey’s late 2011 arrest at the border sent him right back to the Williamson County Jail. And then, like many other defendants facing lengthy sentences, Shockey decided to become a jailhouse informant.
As luck would have it, Shockey was in an ideal jail to do so.
When Shockey was incarcerated in the Williamson County Jail between January 2012 and August 2013, not one but two defendants in separate, high-profile murder cases were housed there. One defendant, Mark Norwood, had been arrested in November 2011 for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton after Morton’s husband, Michael, was exonerated in the case. Morton spent nearly 25 years behind bars for his wife’s murder. In 2013, the lead prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, pleaded no contest to charges of criminal contempt of court for withholding evidence that could have exonerated Morton. It was a notorious wrongful conviction case and it led to the brief imprisonment of Anderson, one of the few times in modern American history that a prosecutor was jailed for misconduct. The Morton case also spurred far-reaching state reforms of prosecutors’ handling of evidence.
The other high-profile defendant at the Williamson County Jail was also held for a decades-old murder. In July 2012, Steven Thomas was arrested for the 1980 murder of 73-year-old Mildred McKinney, after a marijuana possession arrest that year led to a DNA match of crime scene evidence.
So, in March 2012, Shockey contacted the Texas attorney general’s office from behind bars and claimed to have information about the Morton murder. In a March 29 interview with a lieutenant from the Williamson County sheriff’s office and an AG investigator, Shockey said that Norwood confessed to Morton’s murder during a conversation with him in the jail. Shockey claimed Norwood told him that he “went looking for money in that house and killed that bitch,” and that he’d lost his “lucky red bandana,” a reference to a bloodstained bandana found at the crime scene.
That the bandana was actually blue was apparently no matter to prosecutors, who, according to post-conviction pleadings, cut a deal with Shockey to cooperate in the Morton case. The state never even had him testify against the accused killer, Norwood. As part of Shockey’s plea agreement, prosecutors declined to apply the “habitual offender enhancement” to him and on May 16, 2013, Shockey pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and was given a 15-year sentence. He is currently eligible for parole beginning in April 2019. (When Norwood went to trial in the Morton murder in March 2013, he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to review the Norwood case in 2015.)
But before the Norwood trial began in March 2013, an impatient-sounding Shockey told his sister on a jailhouse phone call that he was “working every angle I can to get out there and help” care for their ailing parents. In February 2013, Shockey contacted Lytza Rojas, an assistant district attorney with the Williamson County district attorney’s office. Shockey told Rojas that another alleged murderer — Steven Thomas — had confided in him at the Williamson County Jail.