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Published November 21 2012

Norberg found not guilty on all charges in sex case

FARGO – After a two-week trial filled with graphic testimony and salacious allegations, Jon Norberg emerged from a Cass County courtroom on Wednesday acquitted on charges accusing him of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife – and his sights set on getting his medical license restored.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for less than four hours in Cass County District Court before returning the verdict at about 1:05 p.m.

Norberg, 42, had faced a lifetime prison term if convicted of the Class AA felony charge of gross sexual imposition, as well as five years in prison if convicted of reckless endangerment, a Class C felony. Jurors found him not guilty on both charges as well as lesser charges on each count that they were required to consider.

Norberg showed little emotion when the verdict was read, other than deeply exhaling in apparent relief.

The emotions flowed soon after, however. The surgeon’s brother, Doug Norberg, an attorney who helped with his brother’s defense, cried and then hugged Jon Norberg, who also embraced his West Fargo defense attorney, Robert Hoy.

“I felt like they finally, that they understood that I was telling the truth and that this is just a sad thing overall and that this is about divorce and custody and it’s not about what she said,” he told reporters.

Jon Norberg’s mother, seated two rows behind her son, let out a cry of relief and began to sob when the verdict was read.

Case ‘very difficult’

Alonna Norberg, his wife, had accused him in four instances of injecting her with the powerful sedative propofol or using the ether-like substance sevoflurane on her without her knowledge and sexually assaulting her while she was unaware.

The defense argued that Alonna Norberg, who also is a doctor, made up the allegations against her husband because she wanted custody of their children as part of a still-pending divorce and knew she wouldn’t get custody because of her dependency on prescription drugs and other issues.

Hoy said they were “very pleased” with the verdict and that it’s been a long 18 months for Norberg.

“It’s going to be a truly very happy Thanksgiving for Jon Norberg and his family,” said Hoy. He said the jury deliberations were shorter than he expected.

When reached by phone at home Wednesday afternoon, Alonna Norberg said she had no comment at this time about the verdict. She was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read, nor were her family members, who attended much of the trial.

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.

The case was difficult, lead prosecutor Gary Euren said after the verdict was handed down.

“It was obvious from the beginning it was basically a he-said she-said case, and those are always very difficult, especially with juries,” said Euren, an assistant Cass County state’s attorney.

Euren said he felt the facts were there to sustain guilty verdicts, but he said there also were “so many things going on,” referring to the other legal actions involving the couple.

He noted the criminal case included depositions and evaluations from the divorce case, saying, “That’s not only unusual, it’s almost unheard of.”

Euren said he was “very comfortable” with the way he and co-prosecutor Reid Brady handled the case, and said he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

“I firmly believed in what was charged, and I firmly believed that we needed to proceed to trial in this case,” he said.

Civil cases pending

While Jon Norberg is now free of criminal charges, he still has legal battles ahead. His divorce trial is scheduled for Jan. 14, and a lawsuit filed against him by his father-in-law, Robert Knorr, involving a dispute over a house is pending in McLean County.

The latter case was mentioned during the trial when Knorr testified that on Oct. 28, eight days before the trial was to begin, Jon Norberg met with him and suggested that Alonna Norberg recant her statements as part of a “global settlement” to resolve the criminal matter, their pending divorce case and the lawsuit filed by Knorr.

Against Hoy’s objection, Judge Douglas Herman ruled the testimony admissible, saying a jury could believe it was an effort by Jon Norberg to obstruct a criminal prosecution.

Asked Wednesday if the state planned to pursue an obstruction charge against Jon Norberg, Euren said, “We don’t comment on ongoing investigations.”

Jon Norberg said there are custody issues still pending regarding the couple’s three children.

“This’ll have a big impact on how that plays out in the long run,” he said. “But, you know, my intention is to spend time with my family, and we’ll work it out so that it’s fair so she gets to spend time with them, as well.”

Norberg had pleaded no contest on Jan. 3 to the reckless endangerment charge and a reduced misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, but he later withdrew the pleas after it became apparent they’d affect the divorce case.

He said Wednesday the criminal case has been “surreal.”

“I just hoped that people would be able to see the truth and see that she was not being honest,” he said.

A group of jurors who left the Cass County Courthouse out a side exit declined to comment.

Medical license at issue

The North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners indefinitely suspended Jon Norberg’s license in January as a result of his administration of propofol to his wife in their home.

Norberg said Wednesday that the board indicated it would hold off on taking any action regarding restoring his license until the outcome of the criminal trial was known.

“And so now that this is done, then I’ll ask them what they think is most appropriate as far as reinstatement of my license,” he said.

Regardless of whether he had been convicted or acquitted, Norberg still would have had the chance to get his license back.

“There is no felony, no matter what it is, that is an absolute bar to the practice (of medicine) under our statutes,” said Duane Houdek, the board’s executive secretary.

Houdek said the outcome of the criminal case won’t affect the board’s previous action. In fact, the attorney for the investigative panel that recommended Norberg’s suspension also recommended that if he were convicted of a felony in the related criminal matter, the board wouldn’t begin another disciplinary action or renew the suspension.

The board’s action was based on the same set of facts alleged in the criminal case, but the board relied on its own standards of proof.

“The fact that a jury or a judge might say beyond reasonable doubt standards that there’s an acquittal, that doesn’t really affect us,” he said.

However, a conviction on the reckless endangerment charge “would be a consideration in the board ever granting a license again, or reinstating a license,” Houdek said Wednesday in a phone interview before the verdict.

There’s no time period that must pass before Norberg can seek reinstatement, he said.

The medical board’s January decision was based on a Dec. 23 order from an administrative law judge, Allen Hoberg. Based on the evidence presented by the board’s investigative panel, Hoberg concluded that Norberg engaged in unprofessional conduct and committed gross negligence because he inappropriately administered propofol to his wife in their home and he wasn’t credentialed or privileged to give the drug.

A Bismarck anesthesiologist testified before the panel that Norberg gave propofol to his wife in their home at least 32 times without proper monitoring and special equipment. The anesthesiologist also testified that it was “improper and outlandish” that Norberg had sex with his wife while she was under sedation with propofol, according to Hoberg’s findings.

Jurors in the criminal case didn’t hear about the findings or the specifics of Norberg’s license being suspended because Judge Herman didn’t allow it as trial evidence.

To get his license back, Norberg would have to show the board “that all of the things that led up to this, the reasons that we suspended that license, have been adequately addressed and there’s an assurance to the public and to the board that anything like this wouldn’t happen again,” Houdek said.

“And I’m not going to be able to speculate beyond that,” he added.

Alonna Norberg’s medical license is currently listed in “active-conditioned” status on the board’s website. The pediatrician went on medical disability in 2008 and hasn’t practiced since then.

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Forum reporter Wendy Reuer contributed to this article.

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