Also See:Corrections Officer Kenneth M. Norton - Murder of Tabatha Horn [07/05/1993]
Corrections Officer Kenneth M. Norton - Sentenced For Tabatha Horn Murder - [02/10/1994]
Norton, convicted of second-degree murder, paroled
By SUSAN FIELD
The Morning Sun
Posted: 01/09/13, 4:45 PM EST
Updated: on 01/09/2013
A former Isabella County man is free after serving two decades in prison for the second-degree murder of a 3-year-old girl.
Kenneth Monroe Norton Jr., 54, was released from a prison in Muskegon County Dec. 11, after serving nearly 19 years of a 22- to 35-year sentence.
Norton, who will be on supervised release in Muskegon County for two years, was convicted in Isabella County of killing his girlfriend’s daughter, Tabatha Horn, in July 1993.
He was sentenced Feb. 10, 1994, four years prior to the passage of Truth in Sentencing by the Michigan Legislature, which mandates that prisoners serve maximum minimum sentences before being eligible for parole.
Because Norton, who lived in Fremont Township at the time of the murder, was incarcerated before Truth in Sentencing, he was eligible for time off for good behavior.
Norton was denied parole in June 2011 but served less than the maximum-minimum sentence, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman John Cordell said.
Former Isabella County Prosecutor Larry Burdick, who handled the murder case, contacted the Michigan Parole Board in June to comment on the “tragic and disturbing aspects of” Tabatha’s murder, and cautioned the board to “look carefully at the case and Norton’s record when reviewing the matter for parole.”
“In the end, his release is a function of his sentence, which makes him eligible, and the parole board’s determination that he is not a risk to the public,” said Burdick, who retired in September after being prosecutor for 24 years.
Early releases were the one of the driving forces behind the Truth in Sentencing law, Burdick said.
An Isabella County jury found Norton guilty of second-degree murder in January 1994.
Tabatha disappeared in July 1993; her body was found less than two miles from Norton’s home, just inside Montcalm County.
Norton reported the girl missing July 5, 1993, telling authorities that she vanished from his car at a convenience store in Livingston County’s Brighton while the two were headed to Ann Arbor to visit Tabatha’s mother, Wendy Gokee.
At the time of the disappearance, Norton was a corrections officer at the Carson City Correctional facility, and Gokee was in the University of Michigan Hospital undergoing tests.
Norton told police in Brighton that he didn’t remember when he last saw Tabatha but that he was certain she started the trip with him.
Norton’s car yielded no clues, and nobody at the convenience store saw the girl.
Norton was arrested July 8, 1994 after police discovered her body the same day in a shallow grave.
A woman who wanted to remain anonymous offered a tip that the girls’ body would be found in or by a green duffle bag near a wishing well, police said at the time of the investigation.
Police followed a two-track road and discovered the grave, about 150 yards away from a wishing well, on land near County Line Road, according to previous reports.
Tabatha’s body was identified later than night.
Police said at the time that Norton was linked to the murder because he was the last person to see Tabatha and because there were inconsistencies in his account to police about what happened.
Although not admissible in court, Norton also refused to take a polygraph test.