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Published November 13 2012

Defense in Norberg trial zeros in on calls to divorce attorney

FARGO – The attorney for Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg peppered the surgeon’s wife with questions Tuesday about her repeated attempts to contact a divorce attorney in the days before she claims he drugged her with the powerful sedative propofol and sexually assaulted her.

During Alonna Norberg’s second day of testimony in her husband’s trial, defense attorney Robert Hoy referred to her journal in which she had scribbled over a note about a June 16, 2011, meeting with the woman who would become her divorce attorney, Patti Jensen.

Alonna Norberg testified that she woke up the next morning with the memory of choking as her husband forced oral sex on her during the night.

“You didn’t want your husband to make a connection between your meeting with Patti Jensen on the afternoon of June 16 and the allegations that you made against him on the very next night, June 17, correct?” Hoy asked.

“Me meeting with Patti Jensen on the 16th had nothing to do with what happened on the 17th,” she said.

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.

The cross examination of his wife will continue today, after a full day of questioning by the defense Tuesday.

‘I trusted him’

Alonna Norberg, who also is a doctor, said her husband never discussed propofol with her as a treatment for her chronic pain but rather used the brand name for the drug, Diprivan.

Alonna Norberg has Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder. She suffered from arthritis and pain in her limbs that interfered with her sleep, according to her testimony and medical reports introduced as evidence.

She said she stopped working as a physician in late 2007 or early 2008 and went on long-term disability for 18 months before becoming eligible in 2009 for Social Security disability benefits, which she has drawn since then.

Hoy questioned her about medical journal articles that Jon Norberg had brought home about the use of propofol for pain management. She recalled that he threw a paper across the bed and it landed on a floor, but she said she never looked at it.

She said she agreed to the use of Diprivan in their home, not knowing it was propofol, after her husband told her it was safe and not addictive. She said that after her 40th birthday, from the end of July to Sept. 1, 2010, her husband gave her Diprivan three times through her intravenous chest port.

“You never once got curious enough to go read the articles that he brought home?” Hoy asked.

“No, sorry, Mr. Hoy, I loved him. I thought he was the best surgeon in the world and trusted him. I was sick. I was so sick. I don’t need to go read a journal article. ... I’m just saying I trusted him,” she said.

Alonna Norberg acknowledged she had worked with propofol before as an emergency room doctor.

“In fact, that propofol and Diprivan are the same thing is not a secret, is it?” Hoy asked.

“Well, it’s not a secret, but I hadn’t been in a pediatric ER since 1996 and had done outpatient medicine,” she said. “I wasn’t studying. I wasn’t practicing medicine. I hadn’t been back in that arena ... since 2002.”

“Can you tell me another injectable medication that’s white in color?” Hoy asked.

“No,” she said.

Phone calls highlighted

Hoy highlighted the phone calls to the divorce attorney, and the events leading up to them, to try to bolster the defense’s claim that the drugging and sexual assault allegations were Alonna Norberg’s attempt to gain the upper hand in the divorce she was planning.

In May 2011, a week or two after a family trip with their three children to Disneyworld, the couple set sail on a Mediterranean cruise she had won. They had a big fight on the Isle of Capri, Alonna Norberg said.

Hoy asked if Jon Norberg threatened divorce on the cruise. Alonna Norberg said he didn’t, and that she had confronted him about sex tapes he’d allegedly made of them without her knowledge.

“He never looked at me and said, ‘I’m taking the kids, and you’re not going to get them,’ ” she said.

Ultimately, they agreed to try to work out the marriage, she said.

On June 14, he invited her to join him for a date at the Fargo Country Club. Hoy asked if they talked again about making their marriage work, but Alonna Norberg said she doesn’t remember having that kind of discussion.

That same day, Alonna Norberg’s older sister in Virginia called Patti Jensen, Hoy noted.

“And she’s calling because you had given her that phone number, correct?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

A summary of phone records showed that the sister tried to contact Jensen’s office five times and Alonna Norberg tried six times before finally meeting with Jensen on the afternoon of June 16 at a Fargo counseling center.

“You had taken pains to make sure Jon Norberg knew nothing about any of that, correct?” Hoy asked.

“Yes,” she said.

Video played

Jurors also viewed the videotape Alonna Norberg made on the morning of June 17, after the alleged sexual assault.

She narrated the beginning of the video, describing the alleged sexual assault and how she had found a bottle of Diprivan on his nightstand and a syringe next to the bed.

Hoy asked her to explain what she was doing during a roughly 15-minute gap in the video. She said she didn’t remember.

Hoy also pointed out discrepancies in how Alonna Norberg described collecting the syringe and bottle of propofol and bringing them to her neighbor’s house. She said during her first police interview on July 5 that she had run over to the neighbor’s house right away, but she said Tuesday she didn’t realize until someone later showed her telephone records that it was actually at 2 p.m.

“I think it’s a factual inaccuracy,” she said.

“I think it’s a factual inaccuracy, too,” Hoy said.

Hoy also noted Alonna Norberg had described her recollection of the alleged assault on June 16-17 as either a dream or memory and “a clip in time” with no memory of what happened before or after.

“I knew that it was real,” she countered, referring to Jon Norberg’s statement during a recorded phone call on July 5 in which he said about the June 16-17 incident, “There was no sign that you were having any difficult breathing or anything or hurting.”

Hoy elicited testimony about her behavior in the two days after the alleged assault. It was the weekend of Father’s Day, and she gave her husband gifts and the family went camping on their lots along the river in Fargo’s Osgood area, she said. She said she didn’t want to stay the night, but did so because the kids didn’t want her to leave.

She slept between the children, she said.

Credibility questioned

Hoy also questioned Alonna Norberg about her psychiatric issues, at one point showing the jury a list titled “current medications” with 40 drugs on it, including pain and sleep medications.

According to testimony, she was diagnosed in 2009 with undifferentiated somatoform disorder – characterized by bodily symptoms caused by psychological factors – as well as obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic and histrionic features. She eventually sought treatment for her dependence on prescription narcotics that had led to behaviors such as excessive shopping, which she said “caused a lot of problems” in her marriage.

Hoy cited a bad experience with a pain medication that left Alonna Norberg disoriented in a Target store as the event that kicked off a search by the couple for a medication that would solve her pain problem without having to be on the drug.

But Alonna Norberg said she didn’t remember having such a discussion. She also denied telling a doctor that she had discussed research articles on propofol with her husband.

Alonna Norberg broke into tears on the witness stand as Hoy had her read aloud from a card she gave her husband for their 14th wedding anniversary in May 2010, well before the alleged incidents.

“I need to fight for you. I don’t want you to leave me, and I won’t lose my children. Please stick with me if you can. I will try harder each day,” she said, crying.

She also testified about the card’s mention that she had trouble with her memory, to the point where by the end of a conversation, she couldn’t remember the beginning.

“I wasn’t the smart doctor that I used to be,” she said.

However, she said the line about losing her children referred to her illness, not to any threat of divorce by her husband.

“I was so sick. I didn’t even know if I was going to live,” she said. “I couldn’t be the mother I wanted to be.”

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