Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes on Monday granted Mark Norwood's request to move his murder trial out of the Central Texas area, where his case has received major media attention.
Carnes did not decide where the trial would be, but it is expected to begin early next year.
Norwood, 58, is charged with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, who was bludgeoned to death in bed in her North Austin home. Her husband, Michael Morton, was convicted of the murder in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. DNA testing last year revealed that Norwood's hair was mixed with Christine Morton's blood on a bandana found near the crime scene. After nearly 25 years, Michael Morton was released from prison in October and later exonerated.
Norwood, who lived in Bastrop, was arrested in November. He has been in the Williamson County Jail since then and appeared in shackles in the courtroom Monday. His DNA has also been linked to the unsolved 1988 murder of Austin woman Debra Masters Baker, though he has not been charged with that crime. And Travis County investigators are looking into a third, similar murder from 1985 to see whether any DNA exists from that case to test against Norwood's. Like Christine Morton, the other two female victims were beaten in the head by an intruder during the early morning hours.
Russell Hunt Jr., Norwood's lawyer, argued that the extent of news coverage in the Austin, Georgetown and Round Rock area would make it difficult to find a jury that wasn't already informed about the facts of the case.
Moving the trial, he said, is "the right thing to do."
"We just want to get a fair group of folks," said Hunt, who has said Norwood maintains his innocence.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner, the special prosecutor in the case, did not oppose the motion to change venue.
A pretrial hearing was scheduled for Aug. 8 in Georgetown.