The Orange Leader
SAN ANGELO, Texas — The brother of a slain Austin woman whose husband was wrongfully convicted of her murder and spent nearly 25 years in prison before being exonerated told jurors on Wednesday he found a bloody bandana that prosecutors say points to a drifter as the actual killer.
Mark Alan Norwood, 58, is being tried for the 1986 beating death of Christine Morton, who was attacked in her north Austin home. Prosecutors allege Norwood beat and sexually assaulted the woman.
Morton's husband, Michael, was initially convicted in her death in 1987, but he was exonerated and 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. He also has been indicted in a 1988 slaying of another Austin woman who lived near the Mortons.
Christine Morton's brother, John Kirkpatrick, testified 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 allegedly linking his client to the killing 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.
The trial is being held in San Angelo after being moved from Williamson County, near Austin, because of publicity in the case. The Texas Attorney General's Office is handling the prosecution and is not seeking the death penalty.
Last month, a special 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 a judge on whether Anderson should face criminal charges in the case might come next month. Anderson also is being sued by the State Bar of Texas for his conduct in the Morton case.