ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Former elite Newfoundland athlete Anne Norris has been found not criminally responsible in the death of 46-year-old Marcel Reardon, who was repeatedly hit in the head with a hammer.
The families of both the accused and the deceased broke down in tears as the verdict was read in provincial Supreme Court in St. John’s, N.L., on Saturday morning. Reardon’s brother stormed out of the courtroom.
Following the verdict, Norris will be placed in psychiatric care. The jury of six men and six women had been sequestered since Thursday afternoon.
Norris had pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in Reardon’s death, but admitted to repeatedly hitting him in the head with a hammer early in the morning of May 9, 2016.
Her defence team argued in court that the former member of a provincial basketball team was in the grips of a mental disorder when she attacked him and should be found not criminally responsible.
But Crown prosecutors told the court that evidence presented at trial shows that Norris, now 30, was not delusional and planned a deliberate killing.
Speaking to reporters after Saturday’s court proceeding, defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy called the verdict “very unusual” and uncommon in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“I wouldn’t consider it a victory. It’s still a not criminally responsible verdict,” defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan told reporters. “It’s not a win by any standard, but it’s what we hoped for. It’s what we thought was the right result.”
Sullivan praised jurors for their ability to grapple with tough questions raised during the trial. Among other issues, they had to consider questions about the line between mental illness and criminal responsibility.
“You could tell from the way the jury was following along … that they were very attentive,” Crown prosecutor Iain Hollett told reporters. “These are difficult issues with no easy answers, and I think that the jury looked at it and came up with a not criminally responsible verdict.”
Hollett said it is too early to say whether the Crown will be filing an appeal in the case.
An agreed statement of facts said Norris purchased a 16 oz. Stanley hammer at a Walmart a few hours before repeatedly striking Reardon’s skull as he lay passed out near her St. John’s apartment building.
A forensic psychiatrist testifying for the defence at trial said Norris told him she couldn’t stop striking Reardon and was delusional when she “fully intended” to kill him.
Norris admitted she dragged Reardon’s body under the apartment building stairs where it was found the next morning.
The agreed statement of facts said she then put the murder weapon, her jeans and some rope into a borrowed backpack and threw it in St. John’s harbour.
It was recovered two days later.
Norris was named to the provincial women’s under-19 basketball team at the junior national championships in 2005. She was also highly skilled in karate.
At trial, her father testified that Norris’s mental health had deteriorated after she told her parents in 2011 that she was going to the police about an alleged sexual assault. That case would later be put on hold as concerns increased about her mental health.
Norris has been remanded into the custody of the Newfoundland and Labrador Criminal Mental Disorder Review Board.
According to the province’s Justice and Public Safety Department website, the board can choose one of three options for those who are found not criminally responsible: an absolute discharge, a conditional discharge or detention, with or without conditions.
(The Canadian Press and VOCM)