A Travis County judge ruled Tuesday that a jury will be able to see critical DNA evidence against Mark Norwood when his trial begins next week. Norwood is charged with what was an Austin cold case murder that dates back nearly three decades.
Wearing a faded gray and white jail uniform, Mark Norwood returned to court Tuesday morning, claiming he is not only innocent, but also a victim.
His attorney, Brad Urrutia, argued that Norwood was coerced into providing prosecutors with his saliva and hair.
"He felt like, given all the circumstances surrounding the investigation, that he didn't have a choice but to give those,” said Urrutia.
Norwood is going on trial for the 1988 murder of Debra Baker. She was found beaten to death in her Austin home. At the time Norwood was a construction worker and lived near Baker. Prosecutors are expected to claim a hair recovered from the crime scene is a match to hair from Norwood.
The motion to throw out the DNA samples was rejected Tuesday by Judge Jon Wisser who was filling in for Judge Julie Kocurek. With that set back, Urrutia is expected to argue, during the trial, that the case against Norwood is based on fuzzy science.
"I’m not going to tell you what exactly is my trial strategy is but there have been a lot of developments in DNA since 1988, and there have been a lot of new doubt cast on some of the results on DNA based on a FBI report that came out a couple of years ago, so the reliability of DNA is always going to be called into question,” said Urrutia.
Prosecutor Gary Cobb is not worried about any challenge to the evidence they have.
"The DNA evidence of course is going to be extremely critical, we are confident in the technology, we are confident in the way the evidence was collected, and we are ready to present it all to the jury and have the jury make a decision on it,” said Cobb.
Norwood is currently serving time for the murder of another woman, the 1986 killing of Christine Morton. That case initially resulted in the wrongful conviction of Morton's husband.
Michael Morton served 25 years in prison for the Williamson County murder. He was cleared by the DNA evidence which would eventually convict Norwood. Travis County prosecutors believe a similar story of delayed justice will play out again.
"I think certainly for Debra Baker's family, after waiting this long, to have this case come to trial, it will give them some amount of closure, it will never bring Ms. Baker back to give her to her family but at least you can have the criminal justice system show who was responsible for this and have some measure of justice in this case,” said Cobb.
A jury pool of a little more than 100 people has been called for the trail next week.