AUSTIN (KXAN) — The man who was wrongfully convicted of beating his wife to death in 1986 testified Monday in the capital murder trial for Mark Alan Norwood, the man later convicted of his wife’s murder.
Judge Julie Kocurek ruled Monday, the fifth full day of court, that the Christine Morton murder case evidence against Norwood is relevant and admissible in trial for the death of Debra Masters Baker.
“The Christine Morton homicide does fit requirements of a ‘signature crime,'” explained Judge Kocurek. “Evidence in the Morton homicide is relevant. There’s no doubt that it’s relevant to prove identity.”
Both murders occurred in Austin. Morton was murdered on Aug. 13, 1986. Baker was murdered on Jan. 13, 1988. The murders happened 12 miles away, 17 months apart.
On Monday morning, the jury heard from the Morton’s neighbor at the time, Elizabeth Gee Morgan, who first discovered Christine’s dead body in her master bedroom. They also heard from a Williamson County Sheriff’s Office deputy who responded to the home at the Morton home, after Morgan dialed 911.
Following these testimonies, Michael Morton took the stand, relaying the events as he remembers them, that happened in the night before and day of Christine’s murder.
Michael testified that he left their home for work at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 13, 1986. After work ended around 2 p.m., Morton said he went to pick up his son, Eric, from the babysitter, only to find out that his wife, Christine, never took their son to day care that day. Morton testified that, at this point, he became “alarmed.”
Morton said he called their home phone number and the Williamson Co. sheriff at the time picked up, telling Morton to get home “immediately.”
When Morton arrived at home, his first question for law enforcement was about the well-being of his son.
“Something had happened to my wife,” explained Morton from the stand. “She hadn’t called and so… Of all the bad things that could have happened, I didn’t know if anything happened to my son.”
Travis Co. prosecutor, Allison Wetzel, asked Morton on the stand: “When he told you that Chris was dead, did you ask him what happened?”
Morton testified, in response: “I asked him if it was murder and he said it was.” Morton also testified Monday that he and his wife, Christine, were talking about having another child.
“It was getting to be that time,” said Morton.
In 1987, a jury convicted Michael Morton of murdering his wife, Christine Morton. He was exonerated in 2011. Norwood, 62, was convicted in Christine’s murder in 2013.
Anthony Arnold, a recent retiree of the Austin Police Department’s Crime Laboratory, also testified on Monday. Arnold was called to assist the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in photographing and collecting evidence at the Morton murder crime scene.
“We had a deceased female that was still in the bed, covered up,” testified Arnold. The defense pointed out crime scene photographs entered into evidence, wherein crime lab staff members were not wearing gloves or foot booties. Arnold testified that, to date, crime lab staff will wear gloves, masks, and foot booties when performing the tasks his team performed at the scene in 1986.
“It’s tough because we’re having to defend, essentially, two cases on the part of Mr. Norwood,” explained Brad Urrutia, Mark Norwood’s defense attorney. “We would like the case to be about the Debra Baker case, not a retrial of the Michael Morton case.”
The defense also argued that the possibility of DNA cross-contamination is a factor in the Morton and Baker cases, citing crime scene photographs from the Morton murder wherein crime lab staff did not wear gloves.
“One of the people working the scene had no gloves on and she was collecting evidence, not wearing gloves. That is not the standard now,” said William Browning, another attorney on Mark Norwood’s defense team.
Christine Morton’s brother testified Monday afternoon about finding a blue bandana in the backyard, after his sister was murdered. His testimony could continue on Tuesday.