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MICHAEL W. MORTON v. STATE TEXAS (12/14/88)

December 14, 1988

MICHAEL W. MORTON, APPELLANT
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, APPELLEE



FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF WILLIAMSON COUNTY, 26TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT, NO. 86-452-K, HONORABLE WILLIAM S. LOTT, JUDGE.

COUNSEL

Mr. William P. Allison, White & Allison, P.C., Austin.

Honorable Ken Anderson, District Attorney, Georgetown.

Shannon, C.j., and Carroll and Jones, JJ.

Author: Carroll

Jimmy Carroll, Justice

Christine Morton was beaten to death sometime during the early morning hours of August 13, 1986. A jury found her husband, Michael, guilty of her murder and assessed life imprisonment and a 55,000 fine. Tex. Pen. Code Ann. ยง 19.02 (1974). We will affirm the judgment of the district court.

BACKGROUND

The State's view of the case can be briefly stated: Morton and his wife had a past history of conflict regarding her personal appearance and her lack of interest in sex; he had planned a romantic evening on his birthday; she rejected him; he became enraged and in a fit of sexual frustration and anger, beat her to death with a billy club, then masturbated onto the sheet next to her dead body.

Morton testified in his own defense, and his theory of the case is also easily stated: he admitted their conflict and his frustration upon her rejection, but he denied killing her. According to him, Christine was alive when he left for work and must have been killed by an unseen and unknown burglar.*fn1

THE EVIDENCE AT TRIAL

The story told by the evidence at trial is a chilling one. Shortly after noon on August 13th, a neighbor noticed the Mortons' three-year-old child wandering around outside and became concerned. The neighbor entered the house and called out to Christine. While in the house, she found a note apparently written by Morton to Christine before he left for work that day.*fn2 (This note was later discovered by the police and was introduced at trial.) In the master bedroom she discovered blood on the floor, and then noticed the body and called the police.

Williamson County Deputy Sheriff Wayne Lock was the first law enforcement officer on the scene. He made a preliminary search of the home and determined that the house was empty. He found the murdered woman lying in bed, covered with a quilt, with a suitcase and a laundry hamper stacked on top of the quilt.

Lock promptly secured the scene and called in a report to the Sheriff's office. Additional law enforcement personnel arrived a short time later and began what Morton characterizes as a six or seven hour search of the premises without any attempt to obtain a warrant to authorize the search.

At about 3:00 that afternoon, Morton arrived at the home of the family baby sitter to pick up his son, learned that the boy had not been brought in, and called home. Williamson County Sheriff Jim Boutwell answered the phone and told Morton to return home. (Unknown to either man, their conversation was recorded on the Mortons' answering machine.) When Morton arrived at his house, Sheriff Boutwell told him of Christine's death, advised him of his Miranda rights and then proceeded to question him. During this questioning, Morton signed a printed form consenting to the search of his home.

According to the sheriff, Morton claimed that the previous night he had taken his family out to dinner at an Austin restaurant to celebrate his birthday. After they returned home, he first put his son to bed and then went into the living room to join his wife. He brought a condom with him, and started one of the two video tapes he had rented, "A Handful of Diamonds." He and Christine had an argument about sex, she fell asleep, so he left her in the living room and went to bed. She came to bed sometime later and apologized. Before he went to work the next morning, he wrote his wife a note which he left in the bathroom.

The restaurant's records showed the Mortons had finished eating by 9:30 p.m. Dr. Bayardo, the Chief Medical Examiner of Travis County, testified as an expert on behalf of the State. In Dr. Bayardo's opinion, Christine had been killed within four hours after she had eaten. He based this opinion on an analysis of the stomach contents.

The State also introduced evidence of a semen stain on the sheet and a pubic hair on top of Christine's hand; both consistent with Morton's blood and hair types. Further testimony revealed that Morton slept in their bed the night after her murder (with her blood still beneath it); and that a couple of weeks after her ...


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