The Travis County district attorney’s office is discussing whether to review a 1985 murder case in connection with Mark Norwood, raising new questions about whether another innocent man could be in prison for a murder linked to the former handyman and carpet layer.
Dennis Davis, a former Austin recording studio owner, was convicted last year of murdering his ex-girlfriend Natalie Antonetti in 1985. But the manner in which Antonetti was murdered is eerily similar to the two killings with which Norwood has already been connected.
"That’s why the discussion needs to occur, based on the similarities," Buddy Meyer, a Travis County assistant district attorney, said Friday. Meyer said his office is discussing whether to review the Davis conviction and compare the evidence in the Antonetti murder to the other two murder cases.
Norwood, 57, was arrested in November and charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton in North Austin. His DNA, along with Christine Morton's blood, was identified on a blue bandana found near the murder scene. Norwood's DNA was also identified on a pubic hair found at the scene of the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin. He has not been charged in connection with her death but is considered a suspect.
All three women were beaten to death as they slept. The assailant entered their homes in the early morning hours, and all three were bludgeoned with a large, blunt wooden object. The three women were all attractive brunette mothers in their 30s. And each of the murders occurred on the 13th day of the month.
The women also lived in close proximity to Norwood, who worked as a handyman and carpet installer. Norwood lived about 12 miles from Morton, a few blocks from Baker and about nine miles away from Antonetti.
Meyer said the district attorney’s office would probably decide within a week or two whether to conduct a review of the Antonetti case.
Wade Russell, the lawyer for Dennis Davis, said he had hoped that developments in the Morton and Baker cases would prompt Travis County officials to review his client's case.
"I hope there is some connection to Mr. Norwood," Russell said. "But I can't tell you right now what that would be other than the M.O. being similar."
Davis was sentenced to 36 years in prison last year, following a 2006 tip to police from his then-estranged wife who said he told her that he had “sinned against God and man.” The case that Travis County prosecutors presented was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.
Davis' wife later reconciled with him and refused to cooperate. But the woman whom Davis told police he was with the night of the murder told investigators that she did not have an entry in her journal noting that she was with him when the police called, and that it was something she would have recorded. Another ex-girlfriend told the jury that Davis had confessed to her years earlier but that she had been too afraid to come forward.
Russell said he knows of little physical evidence that might be available for DNA comparison. One item police might use for comparison, he said, is a pair of men's size 32 underwear that was found near the pool at the apartment complex where Antonetti lived. Antonetti had gone for a walk by the pool on the night before she was murdered. DNA on the underwear was tested but did not match Davis or any other suspects.
The discovery of Norwood's DNA last year on the bandana found near the Morton home led to the exoneration of Christine Morton's husband, Michael Morton, who was convicted of her murder in 1987 and served 25 years of a life sentence.
Norwood's lawyer, Russell Hunt Jr., of Georgetown, has said his client is not a murderer and that he has denied killing Morton or Baker. Hunt said Tuesday morning that he was unaware of the Antonetti case. Norwood appeared in court for the first time this month, and the next hearing in his case is scheduled for Feb. 22. He is being held in the Williamson County Jail, with bail set at $750,000.
Meanwhile, Morton's lawyers are pursuing a court of inquiry to determine whether the prosecutor who sent him to prison a quarter-century ago committed criminal misconduct.
Morton's lawyers have discovered that there was evidence back in 1987 when Michael Morton was tried that indicated someone else killed his wife. There was a transcript of a conversation between the lead investigator and Christine Morton's mother in which she told the sergeant that the couple's 3-year-old son, Eric, described the murderer to her: a "monster" with a big mustache who was not his father.
There were also reports from neighbors of a suspicious man in a green van seen several times getting out of the vehicle and walking into the woods behind the Mortons' home. And there were reports that Christine Morton's credit card had been used and a check with her forged signature had been cashed after her death.
Morton's lawyers allege that then-prosecutor Ken Anderson — who is now a state district judge — knew about the evidence and deliberately withheld it from the trial judge and from Morton's lawyers. They've asked Bexar County State District Judge Sid Harle to convene a court of inquiry to determine whether Anderson should face criminal charges for prosecutorial misconduct.
Anderson has denied any wrongdoing in the case and has objected to efforts to convene a court of inquiry, calling the allegations against him "unjustified and insupportable." Even if the claims were valid, Anderson has argued, the statute of limitations has expired.
Harle has scheduled a hearing on the court of inquiry matter for Feb. 10.
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