Wed February 22, 2012
State Seeks Gag Order in 1986 Murder Case
GEORGETOWN — Attorneys for the Texas attorney general's office today asked Williamson County state district Judge Burt Carnes to issue a gag order in the case of Mark Alan Norwood, the 57-year-old Bastrop resident who is facing trial in the 1986 murder of Christine Morton.
"There exists an ongoing serious and imminent threat to the integrity of the administration of justice in these causes as a result of such extrajudicial statements," Assistant Attorney General Lisa Tanner wrote in the motion seeking to silence parties in the case.
Judge Barnes said he would take the motion under advisement.
Norwood, who appeared in court today with an unkempt graying beard and mustache, was indicted in the murder case this month after DNA found on a bandana collected near the crime scene connected him to the bludgeoning death. The same DNA exonerated Michael Morton, the victim's husband, who was convicted of the murder in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison. Michael Morton was released in October after spending 25 years wrongfully imprisoned.
Russell Hunt Jr., Norwood's attorney, did not object to the state's motion, calling it "not a terribly bad idea."
"We ought to not be trying this case in the press," Hunt said outside the courtroom. "We need to sort of lower the temperature in the matter."
In addition to the gag order, the state filed a mound of evidence that will remain sealed from the public, including crime scene photos, police reports and other documents from the state's investigation of Christine Morton's murder and Norwood's alleged crimes.
Christine Morton was beaten to death in her bed early in the morning on Aug. 13, 1986. Norwood's DNA was found on a blue bandana that also contained her blood. His DNA was also found on a pubic hair at the scene of the Oct. 13, 1988, bludgeoning death of Debra Masters Baker in Austin. Both women, who were mothers in their 30s, were beaten in the head with a blunt wooden object. Norwood is a suspect in the Baker case but has not been charged with her murder.
The Travis County district attorney's office has also said that it is discussing whether to investigate the 1985 murder of Natalie Antonetti in Austin in connection with Norwood. Like the other two women, Antonetti was a mother in her 30s who was murdered by an intruder who beat her in the head with a large, blunt, wooden object. Antonetti's former boyfriend, Dennis Davis, was convicted and sentenced to 36 years for her murder last year, but he is appealing the conviction.
Hunt said that Norwood, who has been in the Williamson County Jail since his arrest in November, is frustrated. He said that he expects it will be months before the case goes to trial and that he is considering requesting a change of venue because of the continued media attention it has received.
"A case like this is an unusual matter," Hunt said.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for March 27.