Updated: Prosecutors Tell Norwood Jury of Second Murder

Defendant Mark Norwood enters the Tom Green County Courthouse for opening hearings, Mar 19, 2013.
Defendant Mark Norwood enters the Tom Green County Courthouse for opening hearings, Mar 19, 2013.

Updated, 3:44 p.m.:

SAN ANGELO — Sitting in a blue wheelchair at the front of a Tom Green County courtroom on Friday, 89-year-old Gertrude Ann Masters told the jury how she found her daughter Debra Baker naked and beaten to death in her bed on the morning of January 13, 1988.

"I saw her on the bed, but her head was covered," she said. Two pillows were on top of her daughter's face, so she walked over to the bed and lifted them. "I saw her head very bloody."

Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes on Friday allowed prosecutors who are leading the capital murder case against Mark Norwood for the 1986 death of Christine Morton to tell jurors about another murder with which the former Bastrop dishwasher has been charged. Norwood's DNA was linked to both women's murders, and prosecutors argued that the two beating deaths were so similar that they must have been committed by the same person. Ariel Payan, one of Norwood's defense lawyers, argued to the judge that the cases were not alike enough to show that they were related. But Carnes overruled the defense's objection and allowed the prosecution to proceed with telling the jurors about the Baker killing.

Tanner argued to the judge while the jurors were outside the courtroom that the similarities between the two crimes show a pattern, a "signature crime," and she described the commonalities between the two murders. Both women were beaten in the head while in bed. Both women were beaten with blunt objects. In both cases, the murderer emptied their purses, stole one big-ticket item (in the Morton case a gun, and in the Baker case a VCR), and left jewelry behind. The murderer piled pillows on top of both victims' heads. The victims in both cases were similar in age, similar in appearance and had young children. Neither woman was sexually assaulted.

 

They were "strange, strange" crimes, she said, but they were "strange, strange crimes that are just like each other." And Tanner said that the prosecution needed the evidence from the Baker murder because Norwood's lawyers had attempted to "trash" the DNA evidence and witnesses the state had already presented to prove that he killed Morton.

"We need it, and we admit that," Tanner said. 

When the jury returned, the white-haired Masters was first to testify. She told the jury that her daughter had two children: Jesse, who was 7, and Caitlin, who turned 4 days after her mother was killed. Baker had recently separated from her husband, Phillip Baker. Masters said she found her daughter in her bed after co-workers called and inquired about why Baker hadn't arrived at the office that day. Masters went to her daughter's house to check on her.

Baker's sister Lisa Conn next told the jury that she had been with her sister until about midnight the night before she was murdered. Baker was struggling financially — her electricity was turned off the day of her murder — and Conn had given her $14 to buy tickets for a play. That money was missing from Baker's purse after her murder.

Though she and other family members often reminded Baker to lock the sliding glass door of her house, Conn said her sister regularly left the door unlocked during the day. As she left the house the night before the killing, Conn said she reminded Baker to lock the door. "We always said, 'OK, lock your doors after we go,'" Conn recalled.

On cross-examination, Payan asked Conn whether her sister had been a good housekeeper, in reference to a dust ring around the VCR that had been stolen. 

"She was a single working mother with two children," Conn said. "She was not a horrible housekeeper."

Payan also asked whether Baker had been friendly and ougoing, regularly talking with her neighbors. Conn said she was.

 

The court recessed after Conn's testimony. The prosecution will continue presentation of its case on Monday. Tanner said she expected to rest on Tuesday, and then the defense will present its case. The trial is expected to end before Friday.

Updated, 2:07 p.m.:

Judge Burt Carnes on Friday afternoon said he would allow evidence from Debra Baker’s 1988 murder to be introduced in the murder trial of Mark Norwood, who is charged with the 1986 beating death of Christine Morton.

“It is prejudicial but also extremely probative,” Carnes said in revealing his decision, made while the jury was out of the courtroom. He ruled that evidence of similarities in the two murders fit the requirement of a signature crime.

Norwood’s lawyers tried to argue that there weren’t enough similar ties between the two murders, but Carnes overruled their objections.

“It is abundantly clear that the same person committed these crimes,” prosecutor Lisa Tanner argued in regard to the Baker evidence. Baker was beaten to death in a similar manner as Christine Morton.

Earlier, Tanner had told the judge that the prosecution intends to present evidence that Norwood's DNA was identified on two pieces of hair found in Baker's home: one found next to her body in the bed where she was beaten to death, the other on a towel in a bathroom.

Tanner said Baker lived about two-tenths of a mile from where Norwood lived at the time. She said a VCR was stolen but as in the Morton case, jewelry in plain sight was left behind. "There is no innocent explanation for the defendant being in that house," Tanner said. 

Original story:

SAN ANGELO — The ex-wife of Mark Norwood, who was married to him at the time of Christine Morton’s 1986 murder, took the stand Friday, testifying that he was often gone late at night during their marriage, saying he was working on carpet installation jobs.

Judy Norwood spoke during the fourth day of testimony in the murder trial of Mark Norwood, who is charged with murdering Christine Morton in her North Austin home. Christine Morton's husband Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted of the crime in 1987 and served nearly 25 years in prison before DNA evidence exonerated him and linked Norwood to the crime. Norwood, who has pleaded not guilty, faces life in prison if convicted.

Judy Norwood testified that she married Mark Norwood in 1983 when she was 16 years old. She said he insisted she sue her parents so that she could be considered old enough to live with him.

They moved from Nashville, where they met, to Austin in January 1984 with their 4-month-old son, Thomas. She said they lived on Justin Lane, about 12 miles from the Mortons’ home.

She said that the young family struggled financially. “Things were higher [priced] here, and I had to go to work.”

She had multiple jobs and often worked night shifts, when she would leave their son with Norwood. She said she stopped working at night after coming home once and finding that Norwood had left their son alone.

Judy Norwood testified that when her husband worked as a carpet installer for a company called Leon’s Tile he would be gone late at night, telling her he was working. “He said not to question him,” she said. “I just took his word for it.”

She left her husband and moved back to Tennessee to be near her family in the early 1990s. She said things weren’t good in Austin. “Mark wasn’t working and I wasn’t working and it just wasn’t good,” she said. The couple didn't divorce until 2000 or 2001, she said.

A man named Louis “Sonny” Homer Wann helped her move back to Tennessee. Wann was a friend and employer of Norwood. Wann, whose videotaped deposition was shown to jurors on Thursday, has said that he purchased from Norwood a .45-caliber pistol that was stolen from the Mortons’ home on the day that Christine Morton was murdered.

The defense asked Judy Norwood about her relationship with Wann.

Although Wann said that he moved to Tennessee to be near Judy Norwood, she testified that he moved from Austin because he was going through a tough divorce. “I was working, and I wouldn’t give him time,” she said. Although it was obvious that Wann wanted a romantic relationship with her, she said, she didn’t reciprocate.

During her testimony, she cried when prosecutors showed a photo of her son with Mark Norwood. The boy was wearing a black tank top and had a big smile. Norwood stood behind him with a red bandana sticking out of his pocket.

Also on the stand Friday morning was Austin police cold case Detective Richard Faithful. He was one of the detectives who interviewed Wann in Tennessee in October 2011 and tracked down the gun that prosecutors allege Mark Norwood stole from the Mortons’ home. Faithful said that Wann voluntarily talked bout the gun and that he also agreed to let them take the gun to Austin.

Faithful said that Wann gave specific details about purchasing the gun from Norwood.

He said that initially, officers didn’t expect to find the gun because it had been 25 years since the crime. And they were surprised to see that the serial number on the weapon matched the number of the gun stolen from Morton’s home. “I mean that’s just amazing,” Faithful said.

The defense will question Faithful later Friday. Norwood’s trial is expected to last through next week.

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