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Suspect in Michael Morton Case Identified

Photo courtesy of Texas Tribune

A suspect whose DNA has been linked to the 1986 murder of Christine Morton and the 1988 murder of Debra Baker is on his way to the Williamson County Jail, according to John Raley, attorney for Michael Morton. Morton was exonerated of his wife's murder last month, based on the DNA evidence that showed someone else committed the crime. 

Sources have confirmed that Mark Alan Norwood was arrested today. Norwood, 57, has a long criminal history, including charges in California for drug possession and resisting arrest. He was arrested last year in Bastrop County for assault causing bodily injury. And in 1987 he was charged with an Austin burglary near his home, which was only blocks away from Debra Baker's home and about 12 miles from where the Morton family lived.

DNA from Norwood was identified on a bandana found less than 100 yards away from the scene where Christine Morton was murdered in 1986. Lawyers for Michael Morton sought testing of DNA on the bandana for years. The DNA was matched to a suspect with a known felony record in California.

The DNA also matched a pubic hair found at the crime scene where Debra Baker was murdered in Austin in 1988. That murder has remained a cold case. 

Based on the DNA evidence, Morton was released from prison last month after serving nearly 25 years.

“I called Michael immediately," Raley said. "He is very relieved that the man whose DNA was found on the bandana has been arrested.”

Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley directed questions to the Texas attorney general's office, which is acting as special prosecutor in the case. Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman at the attorney general's office, referred questions to the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.

Christine Morton was found brutally beaten to death in her Williamson County home north of Austin on August 13, 1986. Police focused on Morton as the primary suspect, and he was convicted in 1987 after prosecutors told jurors that he beat his wife to death because she refused to have sex with him the night before, which was his birthday.

Morton insisted he was innocent, and his lawyers fought for six years to have DNA tested on a bandana that was found near their home. When the DNA was tested this summer, it revealed that another man's DNA was mixed with blood from Christine Morton, and that it matched the pubic hair found at the Baker murder.

Williamson County District Attorney agreed to release Morton from prison, and officials began investigating the man whose DNA was identified. Travis County officials also renewed their long-cold investigation of the Baker murder. Both Baker and Morton were found beaten to death in their beds in the early morning hours. Baker was murdered on Jan. 13, 1988.


Brandi Grissom joined the Tribune after four years at the El Paso Times, where she acted as a one-woman Capitol bureau during the last two legislative sessions. Grissom won the Associated Press Managing Editors First-Place Award in 2007 for using the Freedom of Information Act to report stories on a variety of government programs and entities, and the ACLU of Texas named her legislative reporter of the year in 2007 for her immigration reporting. She previously served as managing editor at The Daily Texan and has worked for the Alliance Times-Herald, the Taylor Daily Press, the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung and The Associated Press. A native of Alliance, Neb., she has a degree in history from the University of Texas.
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