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Norwood's Lawyers Rest Their Case in Murder Trial

After calling just three witnesses on Mark Norwood's behalf, lawyers for the man accused of killing Christine Morton in 1986 rested their case Tuesday afternoon.

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

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to include more details from the courtroom proceedings on Tuesday.

SAN ANGELO — After calling just three witnesses on Mark Alan Norwood's behalf, lawyers for the man accused of killing Christine Morton in 1986 rested their case Tuesday afternoon.

The witnesses they called include the defendant's mother, Dorothy Norwood, and the ex-wife and daughter of a key state witness, Louis Homer "Sonny" Wann Jr. The defense primarily questioned the witnesses about Wann's truthfulness in an attempt to create doubt about his testimony. 

Norwood, 58, is charged with beating Christine Morton to death while she slept in her North Austin home on Aug. 13, 1986. Michael Morton, her husband, was wrongfully convicted of the crime in 1987, and spent nearly 25 years in prison before DNA evidence led to his exoneration and to Norwood's arrest. Norwood has pleaded not guilty.

The trial began last week, and special prosecutor Lisa Tanner along with fellow assistant attorney general Adrienne MacFarland have been working to prove to the Tom Green County jury that Norwood, a former dishwasher from Bastrop, is connected to the Morton murder not only by DNA evidence but by a gun that he allegedly stole from the home and then sold to a friend. Investigators tracked down Wann, a former friend and employer of Norwood, in Tennessee. He told them he purchased a .45-caliber pistol from Norwood in 1986. In court last week, Michael Morton saw the gun that Wann gave to investigators and identified it as the one that was stolen from his home when his wife was murdered.

Russell Hunt Jr. and Ariel Payan, Norwood's lawyers, on Tuesday called witnesses who largely addressed Wann's credibility. Sue Payton, who was married to Wann from 1969 until 1994, said that Wann was a storyteller and added that he was very charming. When she was married to Wann, she said, most people called him "Jimmy." She said he worked as a carpenter and also at a cafe in Austin that the couple ran along with Payton's mother. She said she saw Norwood a few times during the 1980s when he spent time with Wann.

During a "very difficult" divorce from Wann, Payton said she had to get a protective order. Asked about his reputation for truthfulness, Payton said, "Most people didn't believe him."

Wann's daughter, Melinda Sue Payton, said she did not know Norwood but recalled a play date in Austin with his daughter, Angela, when the two were young girls sometime between 1984 and 1986. She said Wann was her "biological father" and that he presents himself differently depending on the audience.

"He's not always honest," she said.

Norwood's mother, Dorothy Norwood, told the jury that her husband had been in the U.S. Air Force when her children were young, which required their family to move often and made them a tight-knit unit. They lived in France, California, the Philippines, Guam and Texas, she said.

"As a military family you move and you have your family and you don't have anyone else," she said.

Norwood's sister, Connie Hoff, and his brother, Dale Norwood, along with his daughter Angela, were in the courtroom Tuesday, as they have been for most of the trial.

Dorothy Norwood explained to the court that her oldest son was left-handed, a trait that was handed down by her father, who, like Norwood, also did construction work.

"It's in the genes," she said of the profession.

Dorothy Norwood said she didn't know Wann well during the 1980s but that she gathered that his reputation for truth-telling was poor.

Norwood's lawyers spent much time during their cross-examination of the state's witnesses attempting to raise questions about the validity of DNA testing that prosecutors say links their client to the murders. They asked experts about whether DNA testing could show the timing to determine when Norwood's biolgical material was deposited on a bandana found near the crime scene that also contained Christine Morton's blood. They raised questions about the quality of the state's crime scene investigation in 1986, reminding jurors that officers didn't use gloves and that one individual may have walked through brain matter at the crime scene. And the lawyers questioned the chain of custody of the bandana with the DNA evidence on it. But Norwood's lawyers did not call any experts of their own to discuss the biological evidence in the case.

Tanner, the prosecutor, called one rebuttal witness, Jerry Bauzon, an Austin Police Department patrol officer who was on the cold case unit during the investigation of Norwood. Tanner played a recorded conversation between detectives and Norwood in which he was asked about whether he was left-handed. Norwood said he eats and writes with his left hand but does other things with his right hand. 

"I learned to use both my hands," Norwood said in the recording. The officer asked which hand Norwood would use if he were swinging a hammer. "I think I would use my right," he responded.

Prosecutors have also told the jury that Norwood is tied to a second North Austin murder, the 1988 beating death of Debra Baker. Norwood is facing murder charges in Travis County for that killing, and his lawyers have said he is also innocent of that crime. Both women were beaten to death in their beds by an intruder. Both women's heads were crushed by repeated blows with a blunt object. 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) from the home, 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.

Tanner asked Bauzon whether Norwood told officers during at least three interviews whether he had a "secret sexual relationship" with Baker — a potential scenario defense lawyers had alluded to earlier in the trial — or if he provided any other reason for the presence of his DNA in her home.

Bauzon said Norwood had not. He added later in response to questions from Hunt, the defense lawyer, that it was possible Norwood had some sort of encounter with Baker but simply could not recall her from events more than two decades ago.

Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes said the court action would resume on Wednesday with closing arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers. He allotted one hour for each side to argue. The trial was moved from Williamson County to Tom Green County in West Texas because of extensive local media coverage of the case in Central Texas.

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Courts Criminal justice Michael Morton