When Michael Morton’s wife, Christine, was bludgeoned to death in her bed on August 13, 1986, two items went missing from their home: her purse and his .45 pistol. The mystery of what happened to the two items was never solved. That fall, after a botched investigation by the Williamson County sheriff’s department, Michael was charged with Christine’s murder. At his trial, then-D.A. Ken Anderson told jurors that Michael had killed his wife and then covered his tracks by staging a burglary. “[Michael] grabbed his wife’s purse [and] one pistol out of his several guns, put it inside the purse…and then went to work,” Anderson told the jury. “On his way into work, he disposed of the purse [and] the gun.” Michael was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
On Tuesday, nearly 27 years after Christine was killed, Anderson was proven wrong when the pistol at last surfaced in a Tom Green County courtroom in San Angelo during the capital murder trial of Mark Alan Norwood. (The Norwood trial was moved to West Texas due to extensive pre-trial publicity.) A drifter with a long criminal record, Norwood was indicted for Christine’s murder in 2011 —the year Michael was exonerated of the crime —after DNA testing performed on a bloody bandana discovered behind the Morton home found Norwood’s DNA intermingled with Christine’s blood.
Special prosecutor Lisa Tanner presented the gun in court Tuesday, handing it to her first witness—Michael Morton. Cradling the pistol in his hands, Michael smiled in recognition. “The custom sights, the extended safety, the magazine that’s beveled out,” he said, showing the jury the custom work he’d had done long ago to his .45 Colt Commander. “It’s my old pistol.”
Earlier that morning during opening statements, Tanner explained how the gun had been recovered in 2011 and traced back to Norwood. Investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s office, which is handling the case, had been conducting interviews with Norwood’s friends and associates when they paid an unexpected visit to a man in Nashville named Louis “Sonny” Wann. They did not tell Wann who or what they were investigating, Tanner told the jury, but during the course of a lengthy interview at the Nashville Police Department, Wann had mentioned that he owned a .45. He went on to say that it was his friend Mark Norwood who had sold it to him. He agreed to show the gun to investigators, who “almost fell over,” Tanner continued, when they saw that the serial number matched that of Michael’s missing gun. Tanner said that Wann had purchased the pistol shortly after Christine was killed, for fifty dollars.
Norwood, 58, sat impassively behind the defense table during opening arguments, his grey hair pulled back into a ponytail. Though he pressed a hearing device to his left ear so that he could hear most of the day’s testimony, he didn’t bother to do so as Tanner spent a full hour laying out her case for the jury.