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Published November 15 2012

Norberg’s defense focuses on divorce, wife’s credibility

FARGO – The defense launched its case Thursday in the trial of Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg, with former co-workers portraying him as a compassionate, competent doctor and a law enforcement expert raising doubts about the credibility of his wife’s sexual assault allegations.

Defense attorney Robert Hoy contends that Alonna Norberg made up the allegations to gain an advantage in the divorce she was planning. He called a family law attorney as an expert witness to testify about the effects of such allegations.

Janel Fredericksen, a Wahpeton attorney, said judges presiding over divorce cases must weigh 13 factors when considering which party should get custody of the children.

“If there is credible evidence of domestic violence, that factor trumps everything else,” she said.

Byron Haze, a former Denver police lieutenant who estimated he took part in roughly 2,000 sexual assault investigations, testified he thinks several of the factors to be considered in identifying a false sexual report apply in the case of Alonna Norberg, who has accused her husband of drugging her with the powerful sedative propofol and then sexually assaulting her.

Haze said Alonna Norberg met five of the six motivating factors for a false report as listed on a chart he said was based on “common-sense things” written in textbooks and taught by the FBI and in the Colorado sex offenders unit.

Among the factors was revenge or retribution, trying to gain attention or sympathy and economic gain. Haze noted that Jon Norberg was in the process of selling his surgery practice around the time of the alleged assaults on the nights of June 16-17 and June 19-20, 2011.

At one point, Haze stepped down from the witness stand and dropped to his knees in front of the jury with a pen in his hand to demonstrate why he had “a real problem with the mechanics of this sexual assault,” in which Alonna Norberg claims her husband straddled her torso to force oral sex on her.

Haze also questioned why Alonna Norberg, a doctor who is an expert on the collection of evidence in sexual assaults, didn’t have a rape exam performed after the incident.

“A lot of times in a case where it’s a he-said, she-said, a lot of times the only way it can be proven that sex even occurred is if you have physical evidence,” he said.

On cross-examination, Assistant State’s Attorney Reid Brady challenged Haze’s statistics on false reporting of sexual assaults, as well as his credentials as an expert witness. Haze said he retired from law enforcement in 1990 after nearly 26 years with the Denver Police Department and hasn’t attended training on sexual assault investigations since then.

Two defense witnesses who worked with Jon Norberg at the Plastic Surgery Institute testified he was a careful, excellent surgeon who planned ahead for his surgeries and started clinic hours at 8:45 a.m. so he could drop his kids off at school.

Surgical assistant Tammy Potter said Alonna Norberg would call her husband “quite frequently” at work – four to five times a day – but she never heard him being mean or abusive to her.

Registered nurse Melody Shawchuck said Alonna Norberg would often appear “weepy, unfocused, kind of scattered” when she would visit the clinic to receive steroid injections from 2009 to 2010.

Shawchuck said there was a time when she and Jon Norberg administered light sedation to a patient without an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist present. On cross-examination, she acknowledged they

didn’t use propofol or sevoflurane, the two drugs he’s accused of using on his wife without her consent before sexually assaulting her.

Earlier in the day, the prosecution called as its last witness a nurse anesthetist who also worked with Jon Norberg.

Brady asked nurse anesthetist Paula Schmalz about the equipment she used in sedation and general anesthesia procedures, trying to draw a contrast with what prosecutors contend was a dangerous lack of equipment Jon Norberg had on hand when he administered propofol to his wife in their home.

Schmalz said she worked with Jon Norberg on more than 1,000 procedures and “had the utmost respect for him.”

“He always had the patient’s best interests in mind,” she said.

Jon Norberg is charged with gross sexual imposition, a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison upon conviction. He also faces a Class C felony reckless endangerment charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years.

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.

Judge Douglas Herman said defense testimony is expected to last into Monday, and the case could go to the jury on Tuesday.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, if a verdict isn’t reached by Wednesday afternoon, jurors may return that following Monday to resume deliberations, Herman said.

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