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Norwood guilty in 1986 Morton murder, to serve life in prison

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Mark Alan Norwood was found guilty of capital murder Wednesday in the 1986 death Christine Morton. After nearly three decades a free man, the 58-year-old will serve a life sentence in prison.

The jury reached the decision in three hours following an eight-day-long trial.

Morton was found beat to death with a piece of wood inside her North Austin home. Christine’s husband, Michael Morton, was convicted of her murder in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison.

Thanks to DNA evidence, he was exonerated from the crime after spending nearly 25 years behind bars.

“It’s not a time of celebration. It’s not a happy day," Morton said after the verdict. "There’s a bit of that feeling of, ‘Oh finally,’ but time has helped us heal. Time has made it possible so we can go on without too much animosity or anger.”

Norwood's sister Connie Hoff said the Texas criminal justice system failed again.

“This isn’t over," she said. "It was just a railroad from the start because of poor Michael Morton. The Baker family, I feel for them. We don’t have anything against them, but we’re victims, too and it’s unfortunate.”

In 2005, Houston civil attorney John Raley began examining the possibility that Michael Morton was an innocent man. The New York based Innocence Project asked Raley and his law office to examine the circumstances surrounding Morton’s 1987 conviction.

Following years of digging though Williamson County files and court records, Raley's office came across an untested bloody blue bandana, discovered a day after the Aug. 13th 1986 crime.

In August, 2011, 25 years after the murder, a DNA CODIS hit first introduced Mark Norwood as a possible suspect. His DNA was found mixed with the blood of Morton’s wife on the crime scene cloth.

The Travis County District Attorney’s office was notified of the DNA hit after investigators working for the Houston attorney came across the unsolved 1988 murder of Debra Baker.
APD cold case unit detectives were able to then track hair recovered from the Baker crime scene, requesting DPS and a Dallas-based private DNA lab to provide further tests.

DNA showed Norwood was the DNA donor to both the 1986 bloody bandana as well as the 1988 pubic hairs discovered on Baker's bed and a bathroom towel.

It’s that DNA evidence that special prosecutor Lisa Tanner told the jury to focus on before their deliberations Wednesday.

“You’ve seen pure evil. You have seen it in the facts. You’ve seen it in the [crime scene] photos,” special prosecutor Lisa Tanner said, pointing at Norwood. “Don’t let it walk out.”

Attorney for Norwood, Ariel Payan said while Norwood’s DNA is mixed with Christine’s on the bandana, it’s impossible to know how the evidence came into play. The bandana was picked up by Christine Morton’s brother the day after her murder, about 100 feet away from the crime scene.

“If you are going to take somebody’s liberty away, you better be sure,” Payan said. “The state failed to present evidence. If you have at least one doubt, you need to find a ‘not guilty.’”

Norwood’s lead counsel, attorney Russell Hunt Jr., said the state had a weak, circumstantial case. He particularly questioned testimony from Louis “Sonny” Wann, former boss and friend of the defendant. Wann testified during trial he bought a gun from Norwood for $50 in the late 1980s .

That gun, according to the state, was stolen from the Morton home the day of Christine’s murder.

The defense called Wann’s ex-wife Sue and his daughter to the stand Tuesday, who both testified Wann was not credible because he is a known “charismatic storyteller.”

The defense pointed out what they say are three lies Wann told during his video deposition:

• Wann told detectives he suffered a stroke in the 1980s—a claim disputed by his family during testimony. The defense also told the court no medical records exist to back the claim.

• Wann initially told investigators he bought the gun in question from a guy named “Mackey,” not Norwood.

• Wann’s denied having an affair with Mark Norwood’s ex-wife, Judy. The defense claims he moved to Judy Norwood’s home state of Tennessee to be closer to her after her marriage with the defendant failed.

Hunt told the jury the state had a “weak, circumstantial case” and urged the jury to turn a not guilty verdict if there was even one doubt into Norwood’s guilt.

Also in court Wednesday, the court heard more similarities to the Baker homicide in Travis County.

Two years apart, the homicides are eerily similar, evidence submitted by the state:

• Each murder was committed the 13th of the month.
• Both victims were lying in a water bed when the murder occurred.
• Morton and Baker were both brunette.
• Both victims looked alike.
• Both Morton and Baker carry resemblances to Judy Norwood, the defendant’s ex-wife.
• Both victims had a 3-year-old child at the time of their death
• Norwood entered each house through the back fence, and then through a sliding glass door.
• At each crime scene, only large one large ticket item was stolen. In the Morton murder, it was the pistol. In the Baker murder, a VCR was stolen from the home.
• At each house, expensive jewelry was in view, but not stolen.
• Each home was ransacked.
• Cash was stolen from both of the victims.
• Two pillows were stacked on top of the victim’s heads.
• Both Morton and Baker were beaten to death, killed by six to eight blows to the head.
• DNA connects Norwood to both murders.

While Norwood was charged with capital murder in the Morton case, he did not face the death penalty, per the request of the victim’s family.

Norwood’s trial received a change of venue to San Angelo in Tom Green County due to the widespread publicity of the case in Central Texas.

In the video below, Michael Morton talks outside the courthouse after the verdict

TWC News: Norwood guilty in 1986 Morton murder, to serve life in prison
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YNN's John Salazar reports as the jury deliberates.

TWC News: Norwood guilty in 1986 Morton murder, to serve life in prison
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