Mark Norwood found guilty of 2nd murder, sentenced to life

Mark Norwood found guilty of capital murder of Debra Baker on Sept. 23, 2016 (KXAN Photo)
Mark Norwood found guilty of capital murder of Debra Baker on Sept. 23, 2016 (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — After nearly three decades since the brutal killing of Debra Masters Baker, a jury convicted 62-year-old Mark Alan Norwood of murder Friday. He was sentenced to life in prison, to be served consecutively with his previous murder sentence.

Baker, 34, was beaten to death in her home in January 1988. The case went unsolved until August 2011 when prosecutors say DNA evidence found in Baker’s home was a match to evidence found in the 1986 murder of another woman, Christine Morton.

The jury heard 9 days of testimony before reaching their decision Friday, marking the second time Norwood has been convicted of murder.

Debra Baker, left, and Christine Morton (Family Photos)
Debra Baker, left, and Christine Morton (Family Photos)

In March 2013, Norwood was sentenced to life in prison for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton – a crime for which her husband, Michael Morton, was wrongly imprisoned for 25 years before the DNA evidence match between Baker and Morton were discovered.

It took almost a quarter century to prove prosecutors hid evidence that could have cast doubt on Morton’s guilt and then years later, refused to test a piece of evidence that turned out to be the smoking gun in the case against the real killer–Mark Norwood–the man police say went on to kill Baker after Morton’s conviction.

Norwood was linked to Christine’s murder through DNA found on a bandana near the victim’s home. That DNA was eventually tested as part of the efforts to free Michael.

Michael Morton testified in the trial in Travis County. He addressed the media Friday after the verdict was read, saying today was about Debra Baker and her family.

“Most times, life is not fair. You don’t get what you deserve or you don’t get what you want,” said Morton. “Today’s a little bit different for the Baker family who’s waited so very long, and also for Mark Norwood, who’s waited so long for what he deserves.”

Morton continued, “Our government doesn’t always get it right, but today they did.”

Debra Baker’s daughter, Caitlin, read a statement to Norwood after his sentencing:

Mr Norwood,

My name is Caitlin Baker. Debra Baker was my mother. I am here on behalf of my grandmother, my brother, my mother’s siblings, and my father. I was just shy of 4 years old when she was murdered, and so I have spent the majority of my life waiting for this day.

I am often told that I look like her. I hope that when you find the courage to look at me you will see my mother staring back at you. Today, I am my mother’s voice.

My mother was a selfless, generous, and loving woman. From an early age she had a passion for writing and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Texas. She was hard working and dependable, and would never back down from a challenge. When something needed to be done, she did it. If she didn’t know how to do it, she learned.

Mom loved Barbara Streisand, dramatic movies, and Dr Pepper. She lived on coffee, always had a cigarette, and was a night owl. She always had her liquid black eyeliner with her, and it was always applied perfectly. That is not a skill shared by her sisters or her daughter. She had been teaching her sisters, but didn’t get the chance to teach me. She was a big fan of technology like the early Apple computers, and she thought her massive car phone was the coolest thing ever.

She was the “ultimate big sister” who took care of everyone. She was very close with her siblings and her mother. Everyone hung out at her house to drink coffee and talk or watch movies. Her living room was grand central station for the family.

I remember watching a movie called The Goonies with her. It wasn’t a particularly scary movie but she would pretend to be afraid so that I could be big and tough and protect her. I have only a few memories of her, but in all of them she was being playful and silly with me. I have had to rely on stories to know most things about my mom, but I don’t need anyone to tell me that she was a wonderful mother to my brother and I.

Her death was absolutely devastating to everyone who knew her. It was a gut wrenching, never-ending ache that was made exponentially worse by the senselessness of the murder. The only thing we ever knew for sure was that she didn’t deserve it. She was a good woman who lived for her children and her family.

But her story did not end there. She has never truly left us. She has been with us, all of us, at every moment in our lives. She has been that voice that assures us everything is going to be okay, and that reminds us to be kind to one another.  She will not be remembered as a victim, or a case number. She remains our mother, our sister, our daughter, and our friend.

Mr Norwood, I have seen no expression of remorse from you for the choices that you have made that have ultimately led us all to this courtroom. I have heard no compelling evidence that indicates to me that you are not the man responsible for my mother’s death. I accept the conclusion found by this jury, and I now recognize you as the person who stole my mother from me.

You are a murderer. You are a thief. You are a coward.

We will be grateful to leave this room and never see your face again.

Responding to the verdict on camera, Caitlin Baker said, “This doesn’t change anything. She’s still gone. This is just what we always wanted. We wanted mom to have her day in court. We wanted everyone to be here, and now we’ve had it.”

“She’s put a big hole in all of our lives. Of course her children weren’t raised by their mother, which you can never change that. You can never put that back together,” added Judie Baker, Debra’s sister. “She was a great mom. That was her total focus.”

The defense also spoke with the media Friday and said they are disappointed with the verdict.

“Every case that you do that’s hard like this, you feel it,” said Brad Urrutia, Norwood’s lead defense attorney.

Sentencing guidelines

Due to the sentencing guidelines in the 1980’s, Norwood’s conviction for the Baker murder means he could be sentenced to life, with the option of parole after serving 15 years — the statute as it was outlined 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. He’s already served five years in jail for the Morton murder, meaning he could be eligible for parole in just 15 more years when he is 77-years-old. The prosecution asked Judge Kocurek to stack the sentences,

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. He’s already served five years in jail for the Morton murder, meaning he could be eligible for parole in just 15 more years when he is 77-years-old. The prosecution asked Judge Kocurek to stack the sentences, essentially asking for the sentence for the Baker murder to kick in when his life sentence for the Morton murder ends, ensuring Norwood would stay in jail even if off chance he is granted parole in the Morton case.


PREVIOUS STORY:

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The jury will hear from one rebuttal witness Friday morning before closing arguments in the trial for Mark Alan Norwood.

Norwood, 62, is charged with the 1988 death of Debra Masters Baker. He has pleaded not guilty.

The jury will then deliberate and a verdict could be handed down.

Norwood’s defense attorney spoke about his thoughts leading into closing arguments.

Debra Baker
Debra Baker

“Anytime you have a case that’s circumstantial, I feel like you have a chance,” said Brad Urrutia.

Urrutia said the defense’s plan is to put together their doubts for the jury.

“Hopefully, [we’ll] show them that there’s a reasonable doubt in this case,” said Urrutia.

If the jury finds Norwood guilty in Baker’s death, there will not be a sentencing trial because the charge is capital murder. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty and so, Norwood would automatically be sentenced to life in prison.

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 Julie Kocurek would stack the sentences, if the jury finds Norwood guilty.

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