By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - After Christine Morton was beaten to death in her bed in Austin, Texas, in 1986, her husband was taken away from their 3-year-old son and convicted of her murder, serving nearly 25 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him.
The husband, Michael Morton, is the focus of a new documentary, "An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story," that documents Morton's long journey through the state's judicial system and the irreversible toll it took on his life.
The film, directed by Al Reinert, premiered this week at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas.
The documentary features Morton speaking about the trial and how, because he knew he was innocent, everything would be OK, before a guilty verdict turned his world upside down.
"When they came back with the guilty verdict and the life sentence, I was stunned," Morton said in the film.
"It literally knocked the wind out of me. My knees buckled, my butt hit the chair and had that chair not been there, I'd have hit the floor."
The audience at the premiere in Austin on Monday, where many people are familiar with Morton's story, hissed at the prosecutors in the film and afterward, gave a standing ovation to Morton, who attended the screening with his new wife.
Morton, now 58, told the audience that he participated in the film because he wanted to prevent what happened to him from happening to someone else.
"I'm nobody special," Morton said. "What happened to me could very easily happen to you."
"If you don't identify with me, you're not paying attention," he added.
At Morton's trial, prosecutors persuaded the jury that he had bludgeoned his wife to death in a rage because she wouldn't have sex with him.
Years later, Morton's lawyers learned something they say they were never told at the time of the trial - prosecutors had a transcript of an interview investigators conducted with Christine Morton's mother in which she described a conversation with the Mortons' son, Eric.
The toddler, who witnessed his mother's murder, said he had seen a monster hurt his mother and that his father wasn't home at the time.
The New York-based Innocence Project and Houston lawyer John Raley worked on Morton's behalf to get DNA testing done on a bandana found near the crime scene. The DNA was linked to that of Mark Norwood, who has been charged with Christine Morton's murder and has been indicted in the murder of another woman.
Michael Morton was released in October 2011 and was officially exonerated in December 2011. He received $1.9 million (1.2 million pounds) from the state of Texas in compensation for the wrongful imprisonment, the film said.
Despite Morton's eventual release from incarceration, he said in the film that the hardest thing was to watch his son Eric slipping out of his life.
Eric, who grew up believing that his father had killed his mother, decided as a teenager to stop visiting his father in prison. He eventually dropped 'Morton' from his name and took his adoptive father's surname, 'Olson.'
"I'd never felt so empty, bankrupt, just completely at a loss," Morton said in the film.
The father and son have since reconciled, and Eric Olson is now married and has a baby girl. The film shows Morton cuddling his granddaughter, whose name is Christine Marie.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Phil Berlowitz)