Michael Morton spent nearly a quarter century in prison for his wife's murder before authorities realized they had the wrong man and set him free. Now police believe they have finally found the real killer.
The man suspected of beating Christine Morton to death in her bed in August 1986 _ and linked to the slaying of another woman under chillingly similar circumstances while Morton was imprisoned _ was arrested Wednesday. It's the latest twist in a case that has prompted a separate investigation into a former prosecutor turned judge. Morton's attorneys claim the prosecutor withheld evidence at Morton's trial that could have led police to the suspect decades earlier and prevented him from striking again.
Arrested was Mark Alan Norwood, 57, who told police he worked as a carpet layer in the Austin area in 1986. He is being held on a $750,000 bond and faces a capital murder charge in Morton's slaying in Williamson County, north of Austin.
The Austin Police Department said he also is a suspect in the ongoing investigation of the 1988 beating death of Debra Masters Baker.
"After so many years, it kind of stops being sad and just becomes a happy moment," said the victim's daughter, Caitlin Baker, who was 3 when the slaying occurred.
"We're just really happy and unbelievably thankful, and ready for the case to move forward," she said.
Authorities discovered a connection in the two cases after Morton's attorney, John Raley, teamed up with the New York-based Innocence Project and spent years battling for additional testing of a bloody bandanna found near the Morton home using techniques not available in 1987. DNA from that bandanna matched that of a hair discovered at the scene of the Baker slaying.
But Morton's attorneys now allege their client may never have been convicted if the prosecutor who tried the case, Ken Anderson, hadn't concealed key evidence from the defense _ potentially leaving the true killer free to kill Baker.
Morton has declined to be interviewed since his release Oct. 4. A ruling by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturning his murder conviction won't formally take effect until later this month.
Raley said he spoke to Morton after hearing about Wednesday's arrest.
"Michael is happy and numb at the same time. He knows this is a good day for justice, but it comes at the end of a long tortuous route that has cost him dearly," Raley said.
Jail records did not list an attorney for Norwood and, Sgt. John Foster, a spokesman for the Williamson County sheriff's office, said it had no information on whether he had a lawyer.
Foster said the DNA found on the bandanna matched was entered into a national database and matched a profile belonging to Norwood. When police spoke to him on Aug. 26, "he could provide detectives with no innocent explanation of why his DNA would be on the bandanna with the hair and blood of Christine Morton," Foster said.
Foster said Norwood was arrested at his home in Bastrop, southeast of Austin.
Norwood has criminal histories in Texas and California, records show. In 2008, he received three years' probation after pleading guilty in Riverside, Calif., to charges of possession of a controlled substance and resisting arrest.
He was sentenced to four years in prison in Austin in 1989, after his arrest two years earlier for burglary of an auto and three counts of theft of more than $750. He also received a year's probation after being arrested for marijuana possession in Austin in 1975.
Morton has always maintained his innocence, even when offered an early release if he expressed remorse for his crime. He said that on the morning of the slaying, he left his wife and the couple's 3-year-old son to head to work early at an Austin Safeway where he was an inventory manager.
The Baker case, meanwhile, languished unsolved for more than two decades.
"We may get answers, but I don't think they'll be acceptable," Baker said Wednesday. "They're never going to be enough."
Anderson, who was appointed as a state district judge in 2002 by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, recently spent more than six hours answering questions from Morton's attorneys during a closed-door deposition as part of an investigation into the allegations of concealed evidence. He has not returned repeated calls from the AP about the Morton case.
Among the evidence Morton's lawyers say Anderson concealed from the defense was a statement that Christine Morton's mother gave to the lead investigator, police Sgt. Don Wood. She told Wood that her grandson said he watched his mother get killed and that her attacker was a "monster," not his father. She implored Wood to try to find this monster.
They say Anderson also didn't tell Morton's defense lawyers that Christine Morton's credit card was used in San Antonio two days after her death and that a forged check in her name was cashed several days later. Michael Morton testified during his trial that his wife's purse had been taken from the home.
The State Bar of Texas has also begun investigating allegations of wrongdoing by Anderson. It licenses attorneys in Texas and can discipline them, though most attorneys say investigations of judges are rare.
Lozano reported from Houston. Associated Press Writer Danny Robbins in Dallas contributed to this report.