Norwood Proceedings Slated for Monday Start

Accused killer in 1988 murder of Debra Baker prepares for second trial

Mark Alan Norwood (Photo by Jana Birchum)

Jury selection begins Monday in Judge Julie Kocurek's 390th District Court for the murder trial of Mark Alan Norwood. The 62-year-old has been charged for the killing of Debra Baker, a 34-year-old mother who was found bludgeoned to death in her North Austin home one January morning in 1988. Norwood is already serving a life sentence after his 2013 conviction for the 1986 Georgetown murder of Christine Morton.

The two murders had not been associated with one another until 2011, when the Innocence Project, working with Morton's husband Michael, who'd been originally convicted for that murder, connected previously unpresented DNA evidence from the Morton crime scene (a bloody bandanna) to DNA found in a pubic hair in Baker's home. Investigators were able to trace both pieces of evidence to Norwood, a Bastrop native who'd worked a construction project near Morton's home and also lived near Baker's a short time before her murder.

Those connections proved pivotal to Nor­wood's conviction for the Morton murder. Special prosecutor Lisa Tanner was able to use the circumstances of Baker's murder to form a "signature crime," thus allowing her to tie both murders to Norwood in the trial of only one. Expect Travis County prosecutors Gary Cobb and Allison Wetzel to do the same this month, as they try Norwood for a murder devoid of much evidence and any eyewitnesses.

Indeed, the issues of evidence and witnesses have consumed the bulk of Norwood's pretrial hearings. Norwood was in Kocurek's court Aug. 15 to hash out whether video depositions from five called witnesses could be used during the upcoming trial. (The five witnesses are either now deceased or old and living far away.) He was back in court Tuesday to testify to a motion his attorneys Brad Urrutia and Bill Browning filed seeking to suppress evidence in the trial. From the stand, Norwood said that he only agreed to provide investigators with hair samples and buccal swabs in Sept. 2011 because he was under duress when they showed up at his mother's Bastrop home. (Visiting Judge Jon Wisser, sitting in for Kocurek, who was away attending a conference, denied Norwood's motion. Norwood has also recently been unsuccessful in an attempt to recuse Kocurek from the trial.)

A Sept. 1 letter from Norwood to his attorneys details the defendant's hopeful strategy moving forward. Norwood would like to see his counsel avoid "speculations, assumptions, or hypothetical theories" and focus instead on the Austin Police Department's rush testing of hair samples, and the common industry testing inaccuracies of DNA evidence. The trial commences under the cloud of APD's recent shutdown of its crime lab, which closed indefinitely this summer after the Texas Forensic Science Commission found a number of issues with the way APD was running shop. Norwood also wants to see an engaged effort from his attorneys to discredit the video deposition of Louis Homer "Sonny" Wann (since deceased), a former co-worker with a checkered past whose initial testimony to police led investigators to tie Norwood to Morton's murder.

Judge Kocurek has designated three weeks for Norwood's trial. Check back weekly for updates on the case.

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Mark Norwood, Michael Morton, Debra Baker, 390th District Court

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