Prosecutor Will Not Seek Death Penalty in '86 Murder

Mark Norwood being led into court for the first time on Jan. 18th 2011. He is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.
Mark Norwood being led into court for the first time on Jan. 18th 2011. He is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.

GEORGETOWN — Special prosecutor Lisa Tanner will not seek the death penalty for Mark Norwood, the Bastrop man charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, a crime for which her husband was wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 25 years.

Tanner, an assistant attorney general who is leading the case against Norwood, filed a notice Wednesday in the 368th Williamson County District Court advising the court that the state would not seek the death penalty after consulting with family members of Christine Morton. 

She was found bludgeoned to death in her bed on Aug. 13, 1986, in the home she shared with her husband, Michael Morton, and their 3-year-old son, Eric, in North Austin. Michael Morton was convicted or her murder in February 1987, though he maintained his innocence. He spent 24 years and seven months in prison before DNA evidence proved that he was innocent. He was released in October 2011.

In a notice of intent filed Wednesday in Williamson County, Tanner wrote that Morton, his son Eric and Christine Morton's siblings expressed their desire that Norwood not be sentenced to death if he were convicted. With the death penalty off the table, if Norwood is found guilty he could face a life sentence. He would be eligible to leave prison in 20 years because the crime happened in 1986, before Texas enacted a statute allowing life without parole.

After a more than six-year-long fight to obtain DNA testing on a bloody bandana found about 100 yards away from the Mortons' home, the results showed that Christine Morton's blood was mixed with the DNA of Norwood. Additional DNA testing also identified Norwood's DNA at the scene of another murder. Debra Masters Baker, like Christine Morton, was beaten to death in her bed. Her 1988 murder remained a cold case until the DNA testing last year. 

Norwood was charged with Christine Morton's murder and arrested in November 2011. He is considered a suspect in Baker's murder. Norwood's lawyer, Russell Hunt Jr., has said his client maintains his innocence in both cases.

Norwood's trial is scheduled to take place Jan. 7 in San Angelo after Judge Burt Carnes agreed to move the trial out of Williamson County because of extensive media coverage of the case in Central Texas.

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