Published November 08 2012
Wife to Norberg: What happened?
She described the memory as “a clip in time.” She recalled not being able to breathe and then, suddenly, nothing.
“I should be able to remember the end of the story,” she said. “I should be able to have been woken up if you were sedating me or if it was the Diprivan. I should have been able to take care of myself. But I have this, that memory. What happened? Tell me about it. Tell me what happened.”
The phone conversation recorded by police, played Thursday in Cass County District Court, was the first time jurors heard from defendant Jon Norberg, the orthopedic surgeon accused of drugging his wife, also a doctor, with Diprivan – the brand name for the powerful sedative propofol – and committing sex acts on her without her consent.
The call was one of two that Alonna Norberg made to her husband on July 5, 2011, as she sat near their south Fargo home in an unmarked police car with Fargo Detective Paul Holte, a second police detective and a private investigator hired by Alonna Norberg’s divorce attorney.
Over the phone, Jon Norberg responded to his wife’s demand for an explanation.
“When I give you the Diprivan, you get very – you’re, ‘I love you, I love you,’ and you want to get all kissy and smoochy, and I asked if you would do that, and you did,” he said, according to Holte’s reading of the transcript in court.
“Jon, I would never consent to that,” Alonna Norberg said.
“To oral sex?” he asked.
“To medicine that makes me out of it, that you could do that to me where I can’t breathe and you don’t let me wake up,” she said. “How could you not let me wake up?”
“There was no sign that you were having any difficult breathing or anything or hurting,” he said.
Different focus on call
Jon Norberg’s attorney, Robert Hoy, focused on a different part of the conversation, which was recorded after Alonna Norberg’s initial interview with police and shortly before police executed a search warrant on the couple’s home.
After she told her husband, “I just want to be done” with the propofol, he said, “I don’t have a problem with it; it’s just you’re the one that’s always suggested the propofol.”
“Really,” she said flatly, adding, “We need to be honest with each other.”
Hoy pointed to Jon Norberg’s statements in that excerpt – statements that Holte acknowledged were made before Jon Norberg knew police were investigating his wife’s allegations of drugging and sexual assault – as evidence that the couple had agreed on the use of propofol to treat her chronic pain from an immune system disorder.
Hoy has argued that Alonna Norberg made up the allegations against her husband – who earlier indicated that he wanted a divorce but then agreed to try to work things out – because she wanted custody of their children and knew she wouldn’t get it because of her dependency on prescription drugs and psychiatric disorders.
Jon Norberg is charged with gross sexual imposition, a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison, and reckless endangerment, which carries up to five years.
Jurors heard for the first time Thursday what triggered the police investigation into the alleged sexual assaults on June 16-17 and June 19-20 of last year.
Fargo police Officer Michael Quiner said he was working the evening shift June 20 when Chuck Anderson, the private investigator, gave him a couple of bags full of items he said were related to a possible sexual assault at the Norbergs’ home.
Police weren’t able to interview Alonna Norberg about the allegations until July 5, when Anderson brought her to the police station, Holte said. On June 20, Alonna Norberg had left town with the couple’s three young children.
Her younger sister, Renae Beeter of Minot, testified that she received a phone call on June 20 from their older sister saying Alonna Norberg was leaving Fargo with the children and Beeter needed to pick her up.
Beeter said the siblings were close, but she had stepped back from her relationship with Alonna Norberg in the past year because she became frustrated with how Alonna Norberg was dealing with her struggles with her husband or things happening in her life.
“It got to the point where I truly believed she had this perceived inability that she couldn’t make decisions and she couldn’t stand up for herself. And I became angry because I didn’t understand that,” Beeter said.
She picked up Alonna Norberg and the children in Steele and drove back to Minot. Alonna Norberg’s demeanor during the trip was “shock, disbelief, total devastation,” and she cried most of the way, Beeter said.
Beeter described her reaction to hearing that Jon Norberg had given her sister propofol.
“My first thought was, ‘Alonna, he’s never going to admit this, you know. He’s going to say you’re crazy.’ And my first thought is, there’s got to be some proof,” she said.
They phoned their cousin, a pharmacist in Minot, to find out if propofol would still be in Alonna Norberg’s system. When they got back to Minot, Beeter said she wanted to take her sister to the emergency room.
“And as she’s crying inconsolably, she just said, ‘I don’t want to get Jon in trouble,’ ” she said.
Alonna Norberg’s urine was tested in Minot, and propofol was detected in the sample, along with the painkillers oxycodone and tramadol, Holte said.
Holte also testified about items seized during the July 5 search of the couple’s home, including bottles of Diprivan and a bottle of sevoflurane, an ether-like substance Jon Norberg is alleged to have used to render his wife unconscious before sexually assaulting her.
Hoy highlighted what police didn’t find during the search: three plastic totes full of prescription pill bottles, most of them empty, that Alonna Norberg had removed from the house the day before the search. Holte said she didn’t disclose that activity during the July 5 interview, and she later explained that they were medications that had been discontinued or she wasn’t using anymore.
Drug expert questioned
An expert on propofol concluded his testimony Thursday morning, saying patients may respond differently to the drug.
Hoy had the chance to cross-examine Dr. Steven Shafer, a professor of anesthesiology at Stanford University and a star witness in the trial of the doctor convicted in pop singer Michael Jackson’s death.
Shafer had testified Wednesday that based on the case information he reviewed, including police search warrant reports and an affidavit from Jon Norberg, he believed the orthopedic surgeon’s monitoring of Alonna Norberg while giving her propofol, his ability to resuscitate her and the fact he had sex with her while she was sedated were “all well below the standard of care.”
But on cross-examination, Shafer acknowledged that beyond what was in the affidavit and Alonna Norberg’s statements, he didn’t know exactly how, when and in what dosage Jon Norberg administered the drug. He agreed with Hoy that Jon Norberg would have been in a better position – “in fact, the only position,” Hoy said – to make observations required under the guidelines to determine his wife’s level of sedation.
“Candidly, no amount of calculations and estimations and arithmetic can substitute for that type of observation under the guidelines, correct?” Hoy asked.
“Correct,” Shafer said.
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.
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Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528