SAN ANGELO — Louis “Sonny” Homer Wann, a former Austin construction company owner who now lives in Nashville and once hired alleged murderer Mark Alan Norwood, will tell jurors in a videotaped deposition this week that his former employee sold him a .45-caliber pistol stolen from the home where Christine Morton was killed.
“When I bought it, I paid $50 for it,” he told the Tribune in an interview before the trial. “I’ve had it all this time. The gun hasn’t been shot in over 20 some-odd years.”
The gun, a Colt commander pistol, appeared Tuesday in the Tom Green County Courthouse, where Norwood is on trial for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. Michael Morton, her husband, spent nearly a quarter-century in prison for the crime before DNA testing revealed he was innocent. That DNA, found on a blue bandana near the crime scene, matched with Norwood, a 58-year-old dishwasher from Bastrop with a long criminal history. But special prosecutor Lisa Tanner said in court on Tuesday that DNA is not the only link between Norwood and the murder. Law enforcement officials, she told the jury, have also linked Norwood to the pistol that Wann bought.
“That’s Michael Morton’s gun, the one that was stolen from his house 25 years earlier” said Tanner, an assistant attorney general.
Norwood has pleaded not guilty to the murder, and his lawyers told the jury that they plan to show that evidence in the case against him was contaminated and that the state’s witnesses — presumably including Wann — are not credible. Norwood has also said he is not guilty of another murder he is charged with: the 1988 beating death of Debra Baker in Austin. His DNA was identified on a pubic hair at the scene of that crime.
Tanner took testimony from the 67-year-old Wann via deposition after she explained to the judge last year that he was an essential witness but was elderly and had “various health issues.” Depositions are somewhat unusual in criminal cases, where testimony typically happens during trial in front of the jury.
Wann has poor vision, but he told the Tribune that he still worked in the construction business and regularly put in long days. He didn’t want to testify, he said, because the authorities wouldn’t give back the gun that he bought from Norwood. Wann described himself as a gun collector and said he had more than 20 weapons.
“They’re telling me the gun’s not going to be returned,” Wann said. “If it goes that route, I’m not about to go there to testify.”
The gun hasn’t been returned to Wann, and in court on Tuesday, Tanner showed it to Michael Morton, who held it for the first time in more than a quarter-century. Morton said he recognized the custom work he had done to the gun, including an extended safety.
“It’s been a long time,” Morton said as he held the gun. “I don’t remember the last time I saw it.”
Wann explained that investigators from the Austin Police Department and Williamson County Sheriff's Office spent hours questioning him about Norwood and about the gun.
“They asked me if I bought a certain item from Mark Norwood. I said, ‘Yes, I have,’” Wann said. “They said, ‘We need to borrow that gun. We need to check it for ballistics.’”
Wann said that he met Norwood in the 1980s when Norwood’s father asked him to hire his son, who was married and had a young child at the time. He described Norwood as a good worker, and Norwood listed Wann as a contact on a personal bond document when he was arrested in 1987 and charged with burglary.
“He was happy-go-lucky,” Wann said. “You don’t really know anybody that you’re just seeing for a few hours a day.”
One of the construction jobs that Wann said he hired Norwood to work on was at the home of Travis County Probate Judge Guy Herman. In court on Tuesday, Tanner told the jury that she obtained records that show that Herman hired Wann to convert the garage of his home into a bedroom in July of 1986, about a month before Christine Morton was murdered. Work on the home continued for a few months, she said.
“The job was right at the time Christine Morton was murdered and the gun was stolen,” Tanner told the jury.
Though he said age had clouded some of his memory, Wann said he had doubts about whether his former friend and employee was capable of murder.
“I definitely believe Mark was a thief, but I don’t believe that he was killer,” Wann said. “I think they’re taking a quick turn, like they did on Morton.”
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.