GEORGETOWN — Mark Norwood, who is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, appeared for the first time in court today in a khaki-colored jail uniform with a bushy gray beard and mustache, his thin graying hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes postponed the hearing today until Feb. 22, giving both Norwood's lawyer, Russell Hunt Jr., and state prosecutors more time to prepare their cases.
Norwood, who is 57, was arrested Nov. 9 after new DNA in the Morton case revealed that his DNA was mixed with Christine Morton's blood on a blue bandana found about 100 yards from the murder scene. Christine Morton was bludgeoned to death in her bed and her husband Michael Morton was convicted of her murder in 1987.
Michael Morton maintained his innocence from the start, arguing that an intruder must have come into their home after he left for work and murdered his wife. After Morton's lawyers fought for years to get DNA testing on evidence from the crime scene, a court ordered the biological analysis in 2010. Results of the testing, reported in June 2011, showed that Norwood's DNA was on a bandana found near the crime 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. Like Christine Morton, Baker was beaten to death in her bed at her home, which was 0.2 miles away from where Norwood lived at the time.
Morton was released from prison in October after having spent nearly 25 years behind bars. Norwood, who has a long history of felony offenses, was arrested in Bastrop and has been in jail since November. While he has been charged with Morton's murder, he is considered a suspect in the Baker case.
Baker's family — her sister Lisa Masters Conn, her husband Phillip Baker and her children, Jesse and Caitlin Baker — sat in the front row of the courtroom at today's hearing. It was the first time they had seen the man suspected of killing her.
Hunt, in an interview outside the courtroom, urged people not to rush to condemn Norwood. He called the state's evidence against Norwood "thin." There are questions, he said, about the chain of custody of the bandana and who handled the evidence. Hunt said there were a number of ways in which Norwood's DNA could have been deposited at the scene of both murders. Norwood was a handyman and worked for homebuilders at the time of the crimes. Norwood worked in dozens, if not hundreds, of homes, Hunt said.
"We all know that homebuilders are very active in houses, you might say, and it's certainly possible for them to shed a body hair of some type. Hairs can go anywhere," he said. "And hairs can last for a very long time."
Hunt said Norwood maintains his innocence in both deaths.
"He doesn't want to be found guilty of something he didn't do," Hunt said. "And he says he's willing to take whatever time it takes to establish that he is innocent."