AUSTIN (KXAN) — The presentation of evidence in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton continued briefly Wednesday, before the defense called their first witnesses in the trial for Mark Alan Norwood.
Norwood, 62, is charged with capital murder in the 1988 death of Debra Masters Baker. He has entered a formal not guilty plea.
Norwood was convicted in Christine’s murder in 2013.
Judge Julie Kocurek ruled that the Christine Morton murder case evidence against Norwood is relevant and admissible in trial for Baker’s murder.
The jury heard from two Austin Police Department cold case detectives Wednesday about their part in questioning Louis “Sonny” Wann in Tennessee after a new lead surfaced in the Baker murder case. Wann is a “former friend” of Norwood.
Detectives Richard Faithful and Mark Gilchrest carried out those interviews.
Detective Richard Faithful, currently with APD, testified that the gun stolen from the Morton home at the time of Christine’s murder was, in fact, the same gun Sonny Wann had in his possession. Wann testified in a 2012 video deposition that he purchased the gun from Mark Norwood in 1986.
“He [Sonny Wann] was the last person in possession of the weapon that was stolen from Michael Morton’s house,” said Brad Urrutia, Norwood’s defense attorney. “[Detectives] took the weapon, took his word for it that he got it from Mark, and that was the end of it.”
Urrutia called the detectives’ course of investigation a “bias by police.”
“They had in their mind, ‘Mark Norwood’s our guy because we have his DNA,’ and they ignored all the other evidence that would have pointed to somebody else,” said Urrutia. “[Law enforcement] only focused on that evidence that confirmed the bias they had towards my client.”
The defense hoped to cast enough reasonable doubt in Norwood’s guilt for the murder of Christine Morton to cast further doubt in the jury’s mind that Norwood was involved in the murder of Debra Baker.
The defense re-called Phillip Baker, the husband of the victim, Debra to testify Wednesday. The two were separated at the time of her murder. The defense suggested they had a “violent” relationship.
Brad Urrutia, questioning Baker on the stand, said: “There was an incident where you and Debra got into a fight and you slapped her, isn’t that true?”
Phillip Baker responded that the incident occurred “a couple years” before they separated, adding: “While I regret that act, it was a one-time thing.”
The defense asked Baker whether he benefited from Debra’s life insurance policy, implying possible motive to kill his wife.
“None,” Baker said. He explained that the insurance money went to their children.
Urrutia also pointed to a single palm print of Phillip Baker’s that was found on the master bedroom’s door frame. He criticized detectives for not pursuing this print further.
Detective Gilchrest said, “I was not aware of that,” referring to the latent palm print.
Later, the defense also called two witnesses related to Sonny Wann — his ex-wife and his daughter. These witnesses were allowed to testify by Judge Kocurek in order to testify about Wann’s “reputation for truthfulness.”
Suzanne Payton, Wann’s ex-wife, said Sonny did not have a reputation for being truthful in the community.
“He liked to tell a lot of tall tales,” Mindy Payton testified about her father.
The defense also testified to possibly ‘questionable’ police tactics.
“I have a problem when our system allows the police to make a fake document, which amounts to fake evidence, and show it to a suspect in an attempt to get him to incriminate himself or confess,” said Urrutia. “I have a problem with that.”
After DPS confirmed that Norwood’s DNA was a match to hair found at the Baker crime scene, detectives presented Norwood with an unofficial document that relayed that information. The prosecution defended the detectives’ methods.
“The law is that the police can use deception when they’re interviewing a suspect,” explained Travis Co. Asst. District Attorney and prosecutor, Allison Wetzel. “There was nothing about that interview that was illegal or wrong, or unethical.”
She continued, “In fact, in this case, the information that they gave Norwood about his DNA being in Debra Baker’s home was not a lie. It was absolutely true.”