Trial in 1986 Williamson County killing continues

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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SAN ANGELO -- The brother of a slain Austin woman whose husband was wrongfully convicted of killing her and spent nearly 25 years in prison before being exonerated told jurors on Wednesday that he found a bloody bandanna that prosecutors say points to a drifter as the actual killer.

Mark Alan Norwood, 58, is charged with capital murder in the 1986 beating death of Christine Morton, who was attacked in her home in southwestern Williamson County. He is accused of beating and raping her and stealing items, including a gun, from the house.

The trial was moved to Tom Green County because of pretrial publicity. The Texas attorney general's office is handling the prosecution and is not seeking the death penalty.

Morton's husband, Michael, was initially convicted in her death in 1987, but he was freed in 2011 after new DNA testing was done on the bandanna found near the couple's home. Investigators said the DNA evidence led them to Norwood, whose DNA was in a national database as a result of his long criminal history.

Norwood has also been indicted in the 1988 slaying of another Austin woman.

Christine Morton's brother, John Kirkpatrick, testified that he found the blue bandanna along a driveway of a house under construction behind the Mortons' home. He said he found it a day after his sister's death after feeling frustrated about what he felt was a lack of an investigation by authorities and deciding to do his own probe.

"I just knew it was important," Kirkpatrick said. "It shouldn't have been there. It was out of place."

Kirkpatrick said he also found a discolored napkin that he turned over to police.

DNA testing wasn't available when the blood on the bandanna was initially tested in 1986. The testing wasn't done until Michael Morton's attorneys spent years lobbying for it.

John Chandler, who was a Williamson County sheriff's deputy in 1986, testified he picked up the bandanna and the napkin and that both items had been placed in the same plastic bag when he got them. Defense lawyer Ariel Payan has suggested that the DNA evidence could have been contaminated.

Chandler also testified that a neighbor reported seeing a black van parked near the Mortons' home on the day of the slaying.

Last month, a hearing known as a court of inquiry was held to examine whether state District Judge Ken Anderson acted improperly in 1987 when, as Williamson County district attorney, he prosecuted Michael Morton. Morton's lawyers have accused Anderson of intentionally hiding evidence.

Anderson has denied any wrongdoing. A decision by state District Judge Louis Sturnson whether Anderson should face criminal charges in the case might come next month.

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