Defense hopes to show reasonable doubt in Norwood trial, day 8 with expert witness

Opening statements began Tuesday in Travis Co. Court in Mark Alan Norwood's second capital murder trial.
Opening statements began Tuesday in Travis Co. Court in Mark Alan Norwood's second capital murder trial.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The final witnesses were called Thursday in the capital murder trial for Mark Alan Norwood.

Norwood, 62, is on trial for the 1988 death of Debra Masters Baker. Norwood has pleaded not guilty, but will not take the stand to testify in his defense.

The prosecution called six witnesses Thursday morning, before they rested.

The defense called only one witness before it rested.

Marc Scott Taylor, a DNA and crime scene collection expert, was called to offer a reasonable explanation for why Norwood’s DNA was found to be a match to evidence at the Baker crime scene. Taylor testified that he is certified as a DNA technical leader and a DNA technical manager, however, his lab is not accredited with the FBI.

Taylor testified that although it is not accredited, the lab practices the same policies.

Marc Scott Taylor, an expert witness called Thursday by the defense, offered an explanation for Norwood's DNA being found at Baker crime scene.
Marc Scott Taylor, an expert witness called Thursday by the defense, offered an explanation for Norwood’s DNA being found at Baker crime scene.

“Just simply because the hair is present does not mean anything,” said William Browning, one of Mark Norwood’s defense attorneys. “There’s thousands of totally innocuous reasons why hair and DNA can be at a location.”

The defense offered Taylor as a witness because, Browning said, “We were simply offering possible, viable alternatives of how the hairs and the DNA could have been at the scene.”

“Simply because your DNA is there doesn’t mean that you committed a murder,” added Browning. “There are millions of possible reasons for how your hairs could have been at a crime scene, or your DNA could be at a crime scene. If any one of those is true, then there has to be a reasonable doubt.”

The defense argued that Norwood doing remodel work in the neighborhood, Baker purchasing an item at one of Norwood’s garage sales, and/or Norwood’s hair transferring from a laundromat in the area could all be explanations for Norwood’s hair being found inside Baker’s house, and discovered at the crime scene.

“It is possible,” testified Taylor.

The prosecution said Taylor’s testimony is unreasonable.

“This theory of the ‘magical traveling pubic hair,’ or what’s really reasonable, in that he [Norwood] murdered her and he left his pubic hair behind,” said Katie Sweeten, an assistant district attorney with Travis County.

“We’ve put forth in front of the jury, numerous forensic scientists with accreditation and training, and we want the jury to have faith in those individuals, and then they put up a television actor who hasn’t been in the lab since the 80’s,” added Sweeten. “So, we want the jury to really be able to trust and compare the experts.”

Taylor has been on a television show called “Quincy M.E.” The show is about a medical examiner. The prosecution attempted to enter Taylor’s IMDb page into evidence, but Judge Julie Kocurek denied that attempt on grounds of prejudice.

List of people who testified Thursday, called by the state: 

  • Anthony Arnold, with the Austin Police Department Crime Laboratory
  • Allison Heard, a forensic scientist at the Texas Department of Public Safety, DPS, Crime Laboratory
  • Donna Stanley, the former serologist who collected evidence at the Morton crime scene in 1986
  • Huma Nasir, a senior forensic DNA analyst at a private accredited DNA lab, called Cellmark Forensics
  • Detective David Fugitt, with the Austin Police Department
  • Unnamed inmate from the Travis County Correctional Complex

Detective David Fugitt testified about the similarities in the Baker and Morton cases, and crime scenes.

“In both cases we had white females in their early thirties, long brown hair, they were killed in their beds and struck over the head with blunt objects,” testified Fugitt. “They were alone at the time, their purses had been gone through, and either pillows, or other objects, had been placed on their heads.”

On Nov. 9, 2012, Detective Fugitt filed the case to charge Norwood with capital murder in the death of Debra Baker.

Detective David Fugitt, with the Austin Police Department, became the lead on the Baker cold case.
Detective David Fugitt, with the Austin Police Department, became the lead on the Baker cold case.

An inmate at the Travis County Correctional Complex in Del Valle, who reportedly “shared a common area” with Norwood while the two were both at the Health Services Building, HSB, from Jan. 12, 2014, also testified. He said that Norwood talked to him about the case he was in the newspaper about–the Debra Baker murder.

Cameras were not allowed to film the witness testimony. It was also asked that the inmate’s identity not be revealed, to ensure his safety.

The inmate, who has a criminal history of drug charges, theft and assault dating back to 1998, testified saying the two had “numerous conversations.”

“He told me they had found some hair in the bathroom,” the inmate testified, saying Norwood said he was doing a job in the area. “It was kind of like he was proud he was in the newspaper. That’s what I thought.”

The inmate testified that Norwood told him, “He would never forget the look on their faces,” referring to, as he interpreted, Norwood was talking about more than one victim.

The inmate sent a letter to the district attorney detailing the conversation.

The defense said the inmate is not credible, arguing that the inmate had a reason to write the DA. The inmate was released the day after a detective interviewed him about the letter he sent.

“We get these inmates or ‘jailhouse snitches’ that come and testify, and you know, ‘lo and behold,’ it turns out that they get a shorter sentence or they get released on bond, and things like that,” said Brad Urrutia, Mark Norwood’s defense attorney. “It’s a pretty nefarious practice.”

The prosecution disagreed.

“We feel it’s very strong testimony because of the specifics that he [the inmate] was able to give about the particular crimes. That lends a lot of credibility to his statements,” said Sweeten.

Copies of the charge, capital murder, will be made available to attorneys Thursday, when both sides have rested.

One rebuttal witness will be called Friday morning and then both parties will give their closing arguments. The jury will likely begin deliberating before lunch on Friday.

Due to the sentencing guidelines in the 1980s, if Norwood is convicted in the Baker murder, Norwood could be sentenced to life, with the option of parole after serving 15 years — the statute as it was outline in 1988. Because Norwood is already serving life for the Morton murder, a crime committed in 1986, he is serving life with the possibility of being eligible for parole in 20 years.

Norwood has already served five years in jail for the Morton murder. That is why the prosecution hopes Judge Kocurek would stack the sentences, if Norwood is found guilty.

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