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Published November 05 2012

Jury pool questioned about media coverage as Norberg sex assault trial begins

FARGO – Jury selection began Monday in the trial of a Fargo surgeon accused of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife, with prospective jurors being asked whether they had ever had a bad breakup, if someone close to them had a psychiatric condition and whether having sex with an intoxicated spouse can be considered rape.

The probing questions foreshadowed what Jon Norberg’s attorneys are expected to present as his defense: that the sex he had with his wife after giving her the powerful sedative pro-pofol was consensual, and that she only later claimed it was rape to gain the upper hand in their divorce case.

“Does it matter what their thinking is two weeks later if their signals at the time were ‘yes?’ ” defense attorney Robert Hoy asked jurors.

Fifty-nine candidates reported for jury duty at the Cass County Courthouse.

Because of the intense media coverage of the case, Judge Douglas Herman began the selection process by giving all prospective jurors pads of paper and pencils to write down what they have seen and heard about the case and whether it will make it more difficult for them to be a fair-minded juror.

Herman excused two prospective jurors after reviewing their answers with the attorneys. Another was excused because he was hard of hearing.

Herman told prospective jurors that the trial, which is the first in the new $14.7 million courthouse addition, is estimated to take two weeks, with jury deliberations possibly lasting until Thanksgiving.

Norberg is charged with gross sexual imposition – a Class AA felony carrying up to life in prison – and reckless endangerment for allegedly drugging his wife with propofol and engaging in sexual acts with her while she was unconscious.

He was charged in August 2011, one month after his wife filed for divorce. To avoid the risk of trial, Norberg pleaded no contest on Jan. 3 to the Class C felony reckless endangerment charge and a reduced misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, but he later withdrew the pleas after it became apparent they would affect the divorce case, which is set for trial on Jan. 14. The reckless endangerment charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Dressed in a dark suit, Norberg sat at the defense table between his two attorneys, Hoy and Andrew Cook. Assistant Cass County state’s attorneys Gary Euren and Reid Brady occupied the prosecution’s table with Fargo Police Detective Paul Holte, as designated case agent.

Unlike most criminal trials, in this case prospective jurors were told what case they’d hear in a questionnaire mailed to them several weeks ago.

The jury will be whittled down to 12 jurors and two alternates. Herman said he expected the process to take a significant part of today, as well.

Though The Forum does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assaults, Alonna Norberg consented to be named to contest her husband’s claims that she gave him permission to use propofol on her and that he never sexually abused her.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528