Texas Murder in the 1980’s
How inaccurate, poor, or misused forensic science can send an innocent person to prison, or set a criminal loose,
On April 22, 1987, Edmund Clark was found shot dead at his home in Laurelwood, Texas. He was on the bed, face down with a blanket pulled up to his shoulders, with one gunshot wound to his back and another in the back of his head. Ed wasn’t a popular guy; he had enough enemies that he even received a death threat on the phone.
Edmund’s wife, Norma Jean Clark (born on June 6, 1948), told police that intruders broke into their home and killed her husband. She was allegedly sleeping in another room when she was woken up by the sound of gunfire. Norma then escaped to the neighbors house and told them what happened.
However, with no other clues, Edmund Clark’s murder remained unsolved. That is, until 2010, when better forensic technology unveiled the killer.
Investigators Reopened Edmund Clark’s Case
Norma Jean’s retelling of events didn’t match evidence from the crime scene. For starters, there were no signs of forced entry, nor was the house in disarray.
Secondly, Edmund was the owner of the .38 caliber gun that was used to kill him. The investigators found the murder weapon on the dresser next to the bed.
The case was initially stalled with no suspects. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office reopened Clark’s cold case in 2010 to have a fresh set of eyes look at it.
Norma Jean Clark Becomes a Suspect in Her Husband’s Mother
Investigators at the time learned from one of the Clarks’ neighbors that Edmund had planned to divorce Norma and kick her out of the house.
“She had told a neighbor a week prior, a friend of hers, that in her first divorce she didn’t get anything out of it and she was going to be dammed if she’d let that happened to her again,” – Sgt. Dean Holtke of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office.
A week after she said that, detectives say, Edmund was killed.
After her husband’s death, Norma Jean moved to Tennessee, where she was living until the case was reopened. She never remarried and has two children.
She was suspected of involvement in her husband’s murder. But forensic technology back in 1987 couldn’t prove it.
Advancements in the science by 2010, however, helped the sheriff’s office solve this cold case thanks to an article of clothing.
Blood Found on Clothes Helps Prove Norma Jean Clark’s Guilt
Crime scene investigators checked the clothes Norma Jean was wearing on the night her husband was killed and found blood evidence on them. The blood spatter pattern was consistent with someone in close range of a gunshot.
Investigators said that proved that Norma Jean wasn’t in another room when Edmund was shot as she claimed. She was arrested by Tennessee authorities at her home on Belvedere and extradited to Texas in 2011, where she was facing charges of murdering her husband.
On April 26, 2013, a jury found Norma Jean Clark guilty of murder more than 25 years after her husband’s death. She was sentenced to 25 years in prison and is currently serving her sentence at the Carol Young Complex in Dickinson.
Norma Jean’s children have remained silent during the ordeal.
In 2019 things took another turn. Nexflix produced a series of documentaries that explores flaws within the Criminal Justice System utilizing hard science. Not surprising several have been Texas cases.
In “Blood Splatter” the science is looked at through the lens of the circumstances that surrounded Edmund Clark’s murder. On April 22, 1987, at the age of 37, the businessman was found dead in his home with gunshot wounds.
In archive footage in the episode, Norma told the camera that at first she believed it had been her husband shooting at “somebody or something” until she heard no more sounds.
The prosecution’s expert, introduced on-screen as David, was interviewed as part of Exhibit A. He told the filmmakers that he had been skeptical of Norma’s story from the beginning. Norma, however, has always maintained that she’s innocent of any involvement in her partner’s death. Back in the ’80s the prosecutors took the case to a grand jury but, following a lack of evidence, they did not formally accuse Norma or charge her with any crime.
Fast-forward to 2010, around 25 years later, and investigators claimed to have found forensic evidence that implicated Norma.
“You’ve got a gunshot wound [that’s] going to shed blood at a high rate of speed,” David explained, before adding that in a crime scene like this one you’d expect to see “microscopic” particles of blood as well as the larger pools. “If you were to take a spray bottle and spray it into the sunlight, [you’d] see that fine mist – that’s what we’re looking at.”
Typically, according to this expert, that fine spray would only travel a distance of three feet or less. He claimed to have found evidence of this high velocity impact spatter on the nightgown that Norma had been wearing on the night of the murder, which he argued placed her at the scene when the gun was fired.
David said that it took him about three months to find these alleged microscopic spots of blood on the fibres of the gown, something that he himself described as an “extreme” move that isn’t standard practice.
Edmund Clark’s murder had become a cold case, but this apparent new evidence gave investigators the opportunity to arrest Norma.
According to Norma’s post-conviction lawyer, when the lab results came back on these stains, it was revealed that they “did not test positive for blood” except in the instance of one of the microscopic spots.
“They were not able to test it for DNA so we don’t even know whose blood it was, it could have been her blood it could have been anybody’s blood. It would not be unusual to have a microscopic spot of blood on one’s clothing,” she explained.
According to Norma’s post-conviction attorney, there were plenty of other evidentiary leads that could have been investigated – including a death threat left on Clark’s answer machine, which was played during the series. This, she argued, would have raised suspicion around other suspects.
Norma is now 71 years old and, if she finishes her full sentence, will not be released until 2038.
|Name||Norma Jean Clark|
|Date of Birth||06/06/1948|
|Current Facility||Carol Young Complex|
|Sentence Begin Date||04-26-2013|
|Next Parole Board Review Date||08/2021|