Mark Alan Norwood made an appearance in Judge Julie Kocurek's 390th District Court on Monday. The 62-year-old was there to hammer out a few pretrial hang-ups before the long-awaited jury selection begins Sept. 8 in the state's trial against him for the 1988 North Austin murder of Debra Baker.
Norwood is currently serving a life sentence for the 1986 Georgetown murder of Christine Morton, whose husband Michael was originally convicted for that murder, but was exonerated in 2011 after previously unpresented DNA evidence absolved him of the crime. The revelation ended the local careers of two Williamson County district attorneys, one of whom, Ken Anderson, went to jail. The other, John Bradley, got chased out of the country. He's currently Attorney General on the Pacific island of Palau. "The Michael Morton Act," a seminal mandate in the quest for a more open discovery process in criminal cases, passed through Texas' 83rd Legislature in 2013.
Norwood was convicted that same year, after the aforementioned evidence – a blue bandanna found at a construction site 100 yards away from the crime scene – was shown to carry traces of both Norwood's DNA and Morton's blood. How the Morton case was tried proved somewhat unusual. By March 2013, when it went to trial, Norwood had already been indicted for the Baker murder. The murders occurred two years and 12 miles from each other and featured a number of similarities: young mothers bludgeoned to death in their own homes, and traces of Norwood's DNA within 100 yards of both crime scenes. In a San Angelo courtroom, where the Morton case was tried on account of all the publicity the murder received in Williamson and Travis counties, Williamson County District Judge Burt Carnes allowed Asst. Attorney General Lisa Tanner to introduce evidence tying Norwood to Baker's murder. The jury did not know at the time that Norwood had been indicted.
Indications Monday suggest that the state's effort to convict Norwood of Baker's murder will depend on district prosecutors Gary Cobb and Allison Wetzel's ability to once again associate Morton's murder with Baker's. At issue in Monday's hearing were motions from the state requesting that five witnesses called to testify at Norwood's trial not be required to show up in Kocurek's court. The two crimes took place 30 years ago; in many cases, witnesses are old, sick, or have moved away.
One witness, Louis Homer Wann, is now deceased, but his involvement may prove pivotal. Wann and Norwood worked construction together around the time of both murders and have an extensive history that involves Wann running off to Nashville with Norwood's ex-wife. More central to the murders is that Wann was at one point in possession of a gun that was stolen from Michael Morton's closet at the time of Christine's murder. During his video deposition – provided in lieu of an in-person testimony because health problems made it too difficult for him to travel – Wann said he purchased the gun from Norwood. Norwood's attorneys during the Morton trial spent much of their time trying to discredit Wann's character.
Cobb and Wetzel have requested that video testimony and depositions from the Morton trial be allowed for all five witnesses. Norwood's current attorneys, Brad Urrutia and William Browning, agreed to allow Wann's deposition, but opposed the motions for the other four witnesses. Kocurek asked that prosecutors circle back with each witness to get further documentation of their inability to travel, and present that at what could be the final pretrial hearing, Aug. 23.
Also on the 23rd, Kocurek is expected to issue a response to two letters given to her by Norwood, one of which concerns case documents of his that went missing after he was transferred from a unit in Huntsville to Travis County, and another that charges his attorneys with not properly investigating a conversation involving Wann, recorded in 2012, that a private investigator working with Norwood's family had dug up.
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