Mark Alan Norwood will not face trial in Williamson County for the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. State District Judge Burt Carnes ruled a change of venue for the high magnitude case Monday morning.
Christine was found bludgeoned to death in her Georgetown home, and one year later, her husband Michael was convicted of her murder. After serving nearly 25 years in prison, Morton was freed by DNA evidence and walked out a free man in October of last year.
A bandana found near the crime scene contained both DNA from Christine Morton, and now 58-year-old Norwood, who worked construction jobs near the Morton home in the 1980s. The case has caught a magnitude of media attention, and Norwood’s lawyer Russell Hunt Jr. says a change of venue was the only option for a fair trial.
"You know there is different media markets in different places and certainly people in this local media market are exposed much more than folks in other places, we just want to get a fair group of folks," Hunt Jr. said.
Not only has the case caught media waves, but it has called attention to wrongful convictions in Texas and created local political rifts within Williamson County. The case became a point of contention during this election season between longtime District Attorney John Bradley and challenger Jana Duty, ultimately leading to Bradley’s boot. Many say Bradley is to blame for blocking new DNA testing in the case for nearly eight years.
Former Williamson County prosecutor Duke Hildreth says the local political implications and widespread media coverage make a change of venue appropriate.
“Well, you’ve got to be able to pick an impartial jury, and this case has just been through so much in Williamson County I just don’t know how they could get a jury who hasn’t heard of it or hasn’t already formed an opinion, and that’s the important thing, you got to get an impartial jury,” he said. "Everything about it is important, it is affecting this community politically as well as the whole judicial system.
As of now, there is no indication to what county the trial will take place in, which is slated to being sometime in early 2013. Judge Carnes said he will make phone calls looking for an open venue outside of Central Texas.
Each side will be back in court Aug. 8 for a pretrial hearing.