Yesterday, a Travis County (TX) grand jury indicted Mark Norwood on capital murder charges in the 1988 death of Debra Baker. Norwood is currently awaiting trial on murder charges in the 1986 death of Christine Morton. The apprehension of the man whose DNA is allegedly linked to both murders was delayed more than two decades by the wrongful conviction of Michael Morton, Christine’s husband, who served 25 years in prison for the crime he always said he did not commit.
The lesson is painfully clear: If Norwood is guilty of both murders, Debra Baker would likely be alive today had Norwood, and not Michael Morton, been
apprehended and brought to justice shortly after Christine Morton’s murder.
It’s a tragic story that gets even worse in light of allegations that strong evidence supporting Michael Morton’s innocence was apparent shortly after Christine’s murder, but prosecutors allegedly did not share this information with the defense, as is their obligation under Brady vs. Maryland.
In addition to being in the same region, both murders were strikingly similar. Both women were bludgeoned to death in their beds in the early morning hours. Both were young mothers of young children who were then raised by other family members. In the Morton case, Michael Morton was also abruptly removed from his three-year-old son’s life for the next 25 years.
The Morton case became high profile when Williamson County Prosecutor John Bradley fought for six years Morton’s lawyers’ and the Innocence Project’s efforts to do DNA testing on a bloody bandana found near the Morton home. The frequent argument by prosecutors obstructing post-conviction DNA testing—that the testing would not change the outcome of the case—was debunked when DNA on the bandana linked both to Christine Morton and Norwood, a known felon. John Bradley was defeated earlier this year in his campaign for reelection.
Norwood has denied involvement in both murders.
Repercussions continue. The original prosecutor in the case, Ken Anderson, now a district judge, is defending himself on two fronts from charges that he did not meet his obligations to share evidence of Michael Morton’s innocence.
As reported (here), the State Bar of Texas’s lawsuit against Anderson alleges that he violated professional conduct rules by withholding five items: “a memo to the sheriff’s lead investigator in the case regarding a tip that a check made out to the victim was cashed nine days after she was killed; a phone message to the investigator that the victim’s credit card was recovered in San Antonio; …a sheriff’s department report from neighbors describing a man parking a van on the street behind the Mortons’ home several times… a transcript of a taped interview between the investigator and Morton’s mother-in-law; and a condensed transcript of the taped interview.”
The taped interview is perhaps the most damning. It has been widely reported that it includes Christine’s mother saying that her 3-year-old grandson said he witnessed the crime, that a monster with a big mustache was hurting his mother, and that his father wasn’t home.
If a judge or jury finds Anderson guilty of the Bar Association’s allegations, he could receive a range of penalties from a public reprimand to loss of his license to practice law.
Anderson will also be the subject of a rare formal public inquiry beginning on December 10, 2012, before Tarrant County Judge Louis Sturns. As reported (here) the inquiry will seek to determine whether or not Anderson should face contempt of court and evidence tampering charges, criminal charges.
Ken Anderson has steadfastly denied the charges that he withheld evidence. Additionally, he will likely argue that the statute of limitations has expired on the accusations.
For more than two decades Debra Baker’s sister Lisa Masters Conn, her children Jesse and Caitlin, and her husband Phillip have awaited justice in the murder cold case that changed their lives forever. As reported in the Texas Tribune article (here), in the wake of revelations of the Morton case, the Baker family said, “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 Texas Tribune article also notes the lesson articulated best by Michael Morton’s lawyer, John Raley of the Houston firm Raley & Bowick: “We all need to remember that when an innocent person is convicted of a murder, the real murderer goes free. The tragic consequences of a wrongful conviction can affect many families.”