Murder trial for Mark Norwood begins

Testimony begins in trial for 1988 murder

TRAVIS COUNTY - The murder trial for Mark Norwood -- the man convicted of killing Christine Morton two years before he allegedly killed Debra Baker in 1988 -- began Tuesday morning.

Norwood is facing a murder charge in the beating death of Baker. Prosecutors have linked Morton's and Baker's deaths, saying both women were young, brunette mothers killed with wooden objects while in bed. Norwood's DNA was also found close to each crime scene.

"Sometime around midnight between the 12th and 13th something happened, something vicious and violent and seemingly senseless happened,” said Prosecutor Gary Cobb in his opening statement. 

Defense lawyer Brad Urrutia gave a short opening statement, making one point clear.

"Mark Norwood is presumed innocent unless the state can prove their case,” said Urrutia.

Prosecutors called 92-year-old Gertrude Ann Masters, Baker's mother, to testify Tuesday morning. She talked about her five children in birth order: Garth, Debra -- or Debbie as family called her -- Sherry, Judy and Lisa.

Masters said Debbie had two children and was separated from her husband, Phillip Baker. But she said Phillip and Debra had an amicable relationship and shared custody of the children.

The night of Jan. 12, 1988, Masters said she picked up the kids from school. Phillip picked up the children and took them to his home. Masters said she went to South Austin with daughters Debbie and Lisa for a baby shower and returned home just before the 10 p.m. news.

The next day, Masters said Baker's employer called her around lunchtime looking for her daughter. That's when she went to Baker's home and saw her car in the driveway. She went into the home and found her daughter's body naked on her bed, with a pillow over her head.

Masters told the court she didn't know Norwood in 1988, and didn't think Debbie would know him either. The defense didn't ask Baker's mother any questions.

The prosecution also called Lisa Conn, Baker's youngest sister, to testify. The night of Jan. 12, 1988, Conn said she went to a baby shower at a South Austin home with Baker and their mom. They left there around 9 p.m. and went back to Baker's home. Conn said she left Baker's home around 11:30 p.m. that night.

She told Baker to lock the sliding glass door. Conn said Baker would often leave it unlocked during the day. She said, "No one really locked doors back in those days."

She said that's the last time she saw her alive.

The morning of Jan. 13, Conn said her mother called her at work to tell her what happened.

Prosecutors called Mary Huffstutler, who lived on Dwyce, the same street as Baker, in 1988.

She testified the night of Jan. 12, her two dogs started barking around 10:30 p.m. She looked out the window and saw a man walking past. She described him as about 6-feet 1-inches with dark clothes, a medium build, light skinned, something on his head and his hands in his pockets.

She closed the drapes, and tried to go to bed. She heard the dogs barking again around midnight.

When the defense questioned Huffstutler, she said, "I was young, and I was nervous and I was scared back then too."

We also heard from two former Austin police officers who worked the case. One of the officers was the first to arrive on scene and said he saw a trail in the leaves in the backyard going from the house to the fence line. But the defense points out that could have been caused by police or neighbors. 

Baker's landlord of the home she was renting also testified Tuesday. He said he fixes all the things on the house, and there weren't any repairs in the weeks before Baker died. That will likely come into play later in the trial since Norwood claims police found his hair in the home because he was doing repairs there. 

Norwood's sister Connie Hoff says they have the wrong guy.

"I think they needed a fall guy,” said Hoff.

She worries bad police work may be the problem.

"Day one they messed up they didn't do a proper investigation,” said Hoff.

Baker's daughter Caitlin Baker said it's been a roller coaster of emotions.

"We've been waiting for a very very long time, especially the last 5 years have been very difficult,” said Baker.

"We want justice and closure for our family,” said Baker's sister Judie Larkins.

Jury selection began Monday. Defense attorneys told KVUE that finding an impartial jury in the case was especially challenging.

Follow reporter Christy Millweard on Twitter for updates from the trial, which is expected to last two weeks:

(© 2016 KVUE)


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