Judge Denies Mark Norwood's Request for New Lawyers

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 — Mark Norwood, looking sickly and disheveled and sitting in a wheelchair, pleaded unsuccessfully with Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes on Wednesday to appoint him new lawyers just days before his capital murder trial is set to begin. 

“I’m not going to go into detail, but he was dishonest with me,” Norwood told the judge. “When an attorney is dishonest with you and doesn’t confide in you, I feel like he’s not your best bud, you know what I mean.”

Norwood, a 58-year-old former Bastrop dishwasher, is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton and the 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker. His trial for the Morton murder is scheduled to begin Monday in San Angelo. Christine Morton’s husband, Michael Morton, was convicted of her murder in 1987, and he spent nearly 25 years in prison for the crime before DNA testing revealed that he was not the killer and linked Norwood to her beating death. Morton was released from prison in 2011 after DNA testing linked Norwood to a hair on a blue bandana found near the Morton home and on a pubic hair found at the scene of Baker’s killing. Both women were found beaten to death in their beds.

Norwood says that he is innocent of the murders. 

Carnes called the last-minute hearing in the case after Norwood requested a new lawyer and jail officials told the judge that the inmate was refusing to eat. Norwood refused to go into detail about why he wanted a new lawyer, but said he didn't feel his current court-appointed attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., was representing his best interests.

Carnes quickly denied Norwood’s request, saying that Hunt was working hard to defend him.

“Frankly, I didn’t appoint him to be your best bud,” Carnes said. 

Norwood attempted to interrupt, starting a testy brief exchange. “Excuse me, Mr. Norwood, I’m talking now,” said the judge.

“All right, go,” Norwood retorted, chuckling.

Carnes then asked Norwood about his health and why he was refusing to eat.

“The food is making me sick,” Norwood said.

Carnes, who is overseeing the case, agreed to transfer the trial to San Angelo after special prosecutor Lisa Tanner, an assistant attorney general, and Hunt argued that extensive media coverage of the case in Central Texas made it difficult to find an untainted jury.

Prosecutors, at the behest of Christine Morton’s family, including Michael Morton, have said they will not seek the death penalty for Norwood. If he is found guilty of capital murder, he could face life in prison without parole.

Speaking to reporters Monday at the premiere of the documentary film An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story, the exoneree said he was uncertain about how he would feel at the trial, where he is expected to testify. The trial will be the first occasion on which Morton will find himself in the same room with the man alleged to have committed the crime that not only stole his wife but also resulted in his wrongful imprisonment.

“I hoped and prayed he would cop a plea,” Morton said. “But sometimes you have to go through difficult stuff.”

Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.