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Published November 20 2012

Fargo surgeon's fate in hands of jury

FARGO – Attorneys debated the alleged victim’s credibility during lengthy closing arguments Tuesday in the trial of Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg, who is accused of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife.

After nine days of testimony and nearly four hours of closing arguments, jurors got the case at 5:25 p.m. and went home for the day.

Judge Douglas Herman ordered the jury of seven women and five men to begin deliberations at 8:30 a.m. today. If they aren’t close to a verdict by 3 p.m., they will be released for the Thanksgiving weekend and will resume Monday.

In his closing, prosecutor Gary Euren referred to Alonna Norberg testifying about what happened to her on the night of June 16-17, 2011. She told jurors it “was not oral sex” when she briefly awoke and found her husband forcing himself into her mouth.

“You remember the raw emotion in her voice when she said it? That’s the essence of this case,” said Euren, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney.

Defense attorney Robert Hoy asked jurors if they would rely on Alonna Norberg’s word to make important decisions and said the state has “not one shred of physical evidence” to support her allegations.

“If Alonna Norberg is not credible and you do not believe what she has said, the state’s case crumbles,” Hoy said. “There is no case. It’s as simple as that.”

Jon Norberg, 42, has pleaded not guilty to one count of gross sexual imposition, a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison, and one count of reckless endangerment, a Class C felony punishable by up to five years.

If jurors find him not guilty of one or both charges, they must consider a lesser included offense under each charge.

Under the gross sexual imposition charge, the lesser included offense is a Class A felony punishable by 20 years in prison. It takes out the element of the charge that Alonna Norberg had serious bodily injury inflicted upon her.

The lesser offense under the reckless endangerment charge is a Class A misdemeanor carrying up to one year in prison. It excludes the element that Jon Norberg manifested extreme indifference to human life.

Who had the plan?

Attorneys for both sides depicted the other’s client as scheming for their own benefit.

In the case of Alonna Norberg, Hoy argued that she made up the allegations against her husband to make him look bad and gain the upper hand in the divorce case she was planning. Hoy said she “knew that she had some baggage,” health issues and narcotics abuse, that could hurt her chances in a custody battle for their three children.

Hoy said Alonna Norberg knew a domestic violence allegation would be the “trump card.”

“The bottom line here is that desperate people will do desperate things,” he said.

As he did throughout the trial, Hoy hammered on the fact Alonna Norberg met with a divorce attorney for the first time on June 16, hours before one of the two incidents in which she says she woke up to her husband sexually assaulting her.

“Well, coincidences do happen,” Euren said, addressing the issue in his closing statement. “That’s all I can say about that.”

“This isn’t coincidence by any stretch of the imagination,” Hoy said.

Euren said it was Jon Norberg who had a plan to drug his wife with the powerful sedative propofol and have sex with her, allegedly on four occasions between Sept. 1, 2010, and June 20, 2011.

“This case is not about her diagnosis or her medications or how many there were,” Euren said. “It’s not about the divorce. It’s about Alonna Norberg being drugged with propofol and Dr. Jon Norberg having sexual intercourse with her in various forms. That’s the case.”

Sedation, alertness key

Euren said Jon Norberg put his wife at risk by giving her propofol without the proper medical equipment on hand and by having sex with her while she was on the drug.

“When you’re engaged in sex, you’re not thinking much about anything else,” he said.

Hoy said Jon Norberg administered the drug carefully and that the sex had been mischaracterized.

“The idea that after your wife would feel better and perhaps her libido would return and you would engage in normal marital relations, it’s not a dirty thing. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. That’s what couples do,” he said.

Key issues of contention remain whether Jon Norberg meant to put his wife in a minimal level of sedation or a moderate level – the latter having stricter guidelines – and whether Alonna Norberg was unconscious at any point during her sedation.

Hoy also recalled testimony from defense experts who said Alonna Norberg’s version of the June 16-17 incident was “simply not anatomically possible.”

Inconsistent statements

Both attorneys tried to point out discrepancies in testimony.

Hoy noted that Alonna Norberg originally told police she had run over to a neighbor’s house on the morning of June 17, 2011, to use the phone and drop off evidence of her husband’s alleged propofol use on her. She later acknowledged it was in the afternoon.

Euren said statements by Jon Norberg that he didn’t have sex with his wife on the night of June 16-17 conflicted with his reference to oral sex that night during a recorded phone conversation between him and his wife on July 5, with police listening in.

Hoy suggested Alonna Norberg’s behavior after the alleged June 2011 assaults – she didn’t have a rape kit conducted, didn’t talk to police for more than two weeks and didn’t collect clothing or bedding – was inconsistent with her training as a medical doctor and her expertise in sexual assault cases, including helping to develop standards for gathering evidence.

“She wrote the book, literally,” he said.

But Euren said Alonna Norberg was simply acting like a victim of sexual assault, alluding to earlier testimony that victims behave differently and may delay reporting of assaults, especially in cases involving couples.

‘Stop this shipwreck’

Euren reminded jurors about the biggest surprise of the trial, which occurred last week when Alonna Norberg’s father, Robert Knorr, testified that Jon Norberg met with him eight days before the trial and suggested Alonna Norberg recant her statements as part of a “global settlement” to resolve the criminal matter, their pending divorce case and a civil suit between the two men.

“That tells you something about the state of mind of Dr. Jon Norberg,” Euren said.

But Knorr agreed with Jon Norberg’s assessment that the trial wouldn’t be good for the couple’s children, Hoy noted, saying Jon Norberg “apparently is the only one that was concerned about his kids.”

“He should be given credit for trying to stop this shipwreck and this spectacle before it happened,” Hoy said.

Doctor testifies

Testimony concluded early Tuesday with prosecutors aiming to bolster Alonna Norberg’s credibility by calling as their final witness a Sanford Health physician who treated her.

Dr. Michael Gonzales, who works in Sanford’s pain medicine department, said he treated the 42-year-old for three or four years. He said she suffered from chronic pain associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, an immune system disorder.

Gonzales cited “numerous references” to Sjogren’s throughout Alonna Norberg’s medical records from many providers, including Sanford and Mayo Clinic, and he confirmed the diagnosis.

“She was certainly pretty severely debilitated by her condition. That part was striking. And she was suffering from a great deal of pain that required the use of a fair amount of medication to help to control it,” he said.

With Gonzales as a rebuttal witness, prosecutors tried to repair the damage done by defense expert witnesses who testified that Alonna Norberg appeared to be faking her symptoms and “doctor shopping.”

Gonzales said he investigated the possibility that Alonna Norberg, who also is a doctor, may have been faking her pain symptoms.

“My conclusion was that the symptoms that she was expressing to me were consistent with her medical history and the findings and the conditions that she presented,” he said.

Hoy attempted to paint Gonzales as a pill pusher in cross-examination, noting that within a few months of Alonna Norberg returning clean from an Arizona treatment facility she attended for painkiller dependence in early 2009, Gonzales prescribed her an opioid painkiller at her suggestion.

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