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Man to plead not guilty in fatal 1986 beating of Texas woman

January 18, 2012 |  5:44 pm

6a00d8341c630a53ef015436c02de6970c-320wiA Texas man allegedly linked by DNA evidence to a 1986 slaying plans to plead not guilty, his attorney said Wednesday.

The victim's husband was convicted of murder and spent nearly 25 years in prison until exonerated by recent DNA testing. 

Mark Norwood, 57, has been charged with capital murder in the death of Christine Morton, who was beaten to death in her bed in the Austin suburb of Georgetown.

Norwood's pretrial hearing had been set for Wednesday but was rescheduled. He did not appear in court, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Michael Morton, the victim's husband, was released from prison in October and exonerated after lawyers from the Innocence Project persuaded a judge to order DNA tests, which allegedly linked the crime to Norwood.

The DNA came from a blood-stained bandanna found behind the Mortons' house a day after the murder. The bandanna also contained Christine Morton's hair.

Norwood's lawyer said Wednesday that the bandanna was "weathered" when it was found, and could have been at the scene for months, according to the Statesman. 

The attorney, Russell Hunt Jr., also questioned the reliability of DNA testing on hair. He cautioned officials not to "rush to judgment" on Norwood because Morton had been wrongfully convicted, the Statesman reported.

Hunt said he plans to request a change of venue outside of Williamson County, where the killing occurred.

Norwood was working as a dishwasher in Bastrop, about 30 miles east of Austin, when he was arrested. He was being held at the Williamson County Jail. His attorney told the Statesman that Norwood was in "good spirits."

Police have said DNA evidence also links Norwood to the killing of Debra Masters Baker, who was beaten to death in her North Austin home in 1988, but Norwood has not been charged in that case.

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--Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Mark Norwood, 57, is being held at the Williamson County Jail outside Austin, Texas, on capital murder charges in connection with the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. Credit: Williamson County Jail 

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