All in the family: Mother-son duo tried for 1974 Galveston murder

Creative Commons/Vincent Louis Carrella

Creative Commons/Vincent Louis Carrella

Harold Joseph Norwood was sitting in his car outside English’s Place on July 22, 1974, when another car pulled up behind him, blocking him in. At least two people got out. Charles Lynn Sellers walked up to Norwood’s window, crouched down, and began to talk to him. Sellers’ mother, Pinkie Lee, walked around to the passenger side.

According to four eyewitnesses, after the two men talked for about 10 minutes, shots rang out through the thick summer night. Muzzle flashes lit up both sides of Norwood’s car. By the time the shooting stopped, Norwood had six bullet holes in his neck and chest. Bystanders gaped from the sidewalk, running for their lives when Pinkie yelled, “Kill the witnesses!” and began firing in their direction. Before anyone could call the police, the mother and son climbed back into their waiting car and sped away.

It took investigators two days to arrest them. Along with Pinkie Lee, 37, and Charles Lynn, 21, police arrested Josephine Edwards, Pinkie’s 36-year-old sister, who drove the getaway car, and Kenneth Martin, 27, alternately described as Pinkie’s husband or live-in boyfriend. A grand jury charged all four with murder. They stood trial 10 months later.

Norwood, 28, had seven kids and worked at U.S. Plywood, according to the obituary that ran in The Galveston Daily News next to the story about the arrests. But he also was a small-time drug dealer and a bit of a ladies man, which ultimately led to the confrontation with Sellers. A few days before he died, Norwood sold a couple of joints to Sellers’ wife, Sharon Denise Merritt, and her friend. He drove them around the island while they smoked and took them to English’s Place, at 3501 Winnie, when they were done. Sellers confronted his wife first, telling her he didn’t want her hanging around with Norwood. Then he went after Norwood. According to witnesses, the two men soon started trading blows. Merritt testified her husband was winning until four other men jumped in to help Norwood.

After that, Norwood and Sellers continued to trade insults—and threats. Norwood’s widow testified Sellers asked her if her husband’s life insurance policy was paid up because he was going to need it. Sellers testified Norwood shot at him as he ran down Avenue G not long before their final confrontation. He said he feared for his life.

On the day Norwood died, Sellers said he planned to go to the police station to file a complaint against Norwood. Pinkie Lee asked Edwards to drive, since she’d recently loaned her gas money. Martin came along for the ride without knowing where they were going, he testified. Sellers said they stopped first at English’s because he was looking for a witness to his previous altercations with Norwood. When they arrived at the bar and saw Norwood, Sellers said he decided to try to talk to him instead. He said Norwood accused him of telling the police he sold pot and threatened to kill him. Then, Sellers testified, Norwood pulled a gun.

“I wouldn’t have had a chance if I had run,” Sellers said. “I knew he would have shot me if I had turned my back on him. I was carrying the pistol because I was scared of him.”

Norwood pulled the trigger first, according to Sellers, but his gun misfired. Sellers said he shot back in self defense. He claimed his mother only fired into the air and not into the car or at witnesses.

Despite Sellers’ claims about Norwood having a gun, investigators never found a weapon in his car. But the first police officers who arrived at the scene said a crowd of about 35 people had already surrounded the scene, and witness statements suggested someone propped up Norwood’s body in the front seat of the car after the shooting stopped.

Edwards said she didn’t see her sister or nephew with guns when they got in the car and had no idea the evening would turn violent until it did. Sellers testified his aunt urged him to stay at the scene but he begged her to take him home. Martin also testified he had no idea what was going to happen that night. He claimed he never talked to Pinkie about what had happened but went to bed as normal that night and got up the next day to go to work. According to The Daily News, the most common phrases Martin used during his testimony were: “I don’t know.” … “I don’t remember.” … “I didn’t pay that much attention.” … and “I just can’t recall.”

Pinkie Lee chose not to take the stand in her own defense.

After deliberating for 12 hours and 45 minutes, the jury made history by handing down the island’s first mother-son murder conviction. They sentenced Pinkie Lee to 20 years in prison. Sellers got 15 years. Prosecutors had asked for the maximum—99 years—for each. The jury set Edwards and Martin free.

Pinkie Lee served less than half her sentence. But in August 1985 she was back in jail, charged with attempted murder after shooting two men in a night club. The fracas started when another woman stepped on Pinkie Lee’s foot on the dance floor. During the ensuing argument, Pinkie Lee pulled a gun and started shooting. The newspaper didn’t report on the outcome of that case.

Pinkie Lee died on Aug. 11, 2015. Her obituary in The Daily News made no mention of her history, calling her a home maker and house wife. It listed Charles Lynn as preceding her in death.

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