Mark Norwood, the Bastrop dishwasher who was arrested one year ago for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton, was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on Friday for the January 1988 murder of Debra Masters Baker in Austin.
“It has been excruciating for all of us who loved Debra to wait for this day. Now, we finally have a face to put with her tragic murder,” Baker’s family said in a statement released by attorney Sam Bassett.
Norwood's attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., said his client maintains his innocence in both cases. Hunt said Norwood's mother had been subpoenaed to testify before a Travis County grand jury on Friday morning.
"We’re very disappointed in the indictment," Hunt said, adding that he looks forward to finding out what new information the investigators in Travis County have that led them to seek the indictment.
Norwood, 58, was charged on Nov. 9, 2011 with the Morton murder and a trial in that case is set to begin in January. Christine Morton's husband, Michael Morton, spent nearly 25 years wrongfully imprisoned for that crime before DNA found on a blue bandana about 100 yards away from the crime scene linked Norwood to the murder.
Researchers for Michael Morton's lawyers — John Raley of the Houston law firm Raley & Bowick and Nina Morrison and Barry Scheck of the New York-based Innocence Project — looked for similar unsolved crimes in places where Norwood had lived over the years and found the Baker case on the Austin Police Department’s website.
Norwood lived only blocks from the Bakers' home in the 1980s. Morton’s lawyers alerted Travis County officials, who quickly matched the DNA sample from the bandana in the Morton case to a pubic hair found at the scene of Baker’s murder.
After the DNA revelation last year, Michael Morton was freed from prison and exonerated. Meanwhile, Baker's family — particularly her sister Lisa Masters Conn, her children Jesse and Caitlin Baker and her husband Phillip Baker — has been anxiously awaiting progress in the investigation of her murder.
“We all need to remember that when an innocent person is convicted of a murder, the real murderer goes free," said Raley. "The tragic consequences of a wrongful conviction can affect many families.”
Both Christine Morton and Debra Baker were beaten to death in their beds in the early morning hours by an intruder. Both murders occurred on the 13th day of the month. While Williamson County investigators immediately seized on Michael Morton as the prime suspect in his wife's murder, in Baker's case there were no viable suspects, and the case remained cold for more than two decades.
“Though we have been frustrated at the length of time it has taken to get to this point, we are grateful to the Austin Police Department and Travis County District Attorney’s office for their hard work on Debra’s case,” the family said. “We are extremely grateful for the work of John Raley and the Innocence Project.”
In investigating Morton’s wrongful conviction, his lawyers allege they found evidence that the prosecutor who oversaw the case, former district attorney Ken Anderson, withheld key evidence. Anderson, who is now a state district judge, is facing both a civil lawsuit and an unusual court of inquiry that could result in criminal charges for his role in Morton’s wrongful conviction. The court of inquiry is scheduled to begin Dec. 10 in Williamson County.
Anderson vociferously denies allegations of wrongdoing, though he has apologized for the system’s failure in the Morton case. In response to the State Bar of Texas civil lawsuit alleging that he violated professional ethics rules, Anderson has also said that the statute of limitations on the alleged infractions has expired.
Baker’s family has intently watched the proceedings against Anderson in the Morton case. Had the prosecutor and investigators in that case pursued evidence that was withheld, they contend, the murder of their sister, mother and wife, could have been prevented.
Morton’s lawyers say that the Williamson County district attorney’s office withheld a transcript in which his mother-in-law told a sheriff’s investigator that the couple’s 3-year-old son saw a “monster” who brutally attacked his mother. He said his father was not home.
The defense lawyers also say prosecutors withheld information that Christine Morton’s credit card was used after her death and that neighbors saw a man park his green van and walk into the woods near the Morton’s home.
“It is difficult for us to process the reality that Debra might still be with us if evidence in the Morton case had been handled in the manner required by law,” the family said.