One sentence from psychiatrist Dr. Nizar Ladha, who took the stand at Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday, caused Anne Norris’s father to lean forward with his head in his hands and cry, and her aunt to leave the courtroom in audible sobs.
“My opinion was — is — that Ms. Norris suffers from schizophrenia, a major mental disorder,” Ladha testified.
“At the time of the offence, Ms. Norris was suffering from a condition and, from a psychiatric point of view, she did not believe what she was doing was wrong. From a psychiatric point of view, she thought what she was doing was right.”
Anne Norris, 30, is being tried for the first-degree murder of Marcel Reardon, 46, in May 2016. She has admitted to killing Reardon by striking him multiple times with a hammer she had purchased hours earlier at Walmart, then moving his body underneath a set of concrete steps at the back of the Brazil Street apartment building in which she lived. She has acknowledged she then put the hammer in a borrowed backpack and threw it in St. John’s harbour, She has also admitted going back to Walmart and attempting to purchase another hammer four days later.
Anne Norris not a psychopath, assessing psychologist testifies in St. John’s
Anne Norris admits to beating Marcel Reardon to death with hammer
Norris’s lawyers, Jerome Kennedy and Rosellen Sullivan, say she is not guilty due to a mental illness, and should be found not criminally responsible for Reardon’s death.
Crown prosecutors Iain Hollett and Jeff Summers say Norris planned to kill Reardon and did so knowing full well the consequences, and is thus guilty of first-degree murder.
Both sides have had the opportunity to call witnesses, with Ladha, a general psychiatrist as well as forensic psychiatrist, expected to be one of the last to testify for the defence.
Ladha was hired by Kennedy and Sullivan to assess Norris, and met with her for more than three hours on June 1, 2016, nearly a month after Reardon was killed. At that point, Ladha had not reviewed any information about Norris or her mental health history.
“Good, depressed a little. The last week and a half have been pretty bad,” Ladha’s report says Norris told him when asked how she was feeling.
She had been arrested May 13. Ladha asked what had happened prior to her arrest, and she spoke of being hospitalized for depression, saying she had been suicidal.
She told him her toenails hurt, she had shooting pains in her head and pains in her chest from sternum to chin that would come and go out of nowhere, and she had gone to the ER once because she couldn’t breathe.
Norris, whom Ladha said laughed at inappropriate times during the assessment, said medical professionals were lying to her, telling her the pains were anxiety-related.
Norris told Ladha 2015 had been “a very bad year,” and that she had been sexually assaulted many times in her life, by her father, by every boyfriend she ever had and by others. People looked at her on the street, she said, and she was afraid they’d hurt her. “This will sound crazy,” she said, prefacing an account of an incident where she had woken up in a shelter with bruises all over her head because someone had broken in and beaten her up while she slept. No one would listen to her.
“At one point my tooth was missing. It was insane,” she said of the alleged attacks. “It was evident to me that something was going on. There was trauma and I could see it. I was pissed.”
Later, Norris told Ladha she didn’t trust anyone, not even him. “You say everything is going to be fine, but it isn’t,” she told him.
Ladha suspected Norris was having delusions and later confirmed that to be the case, when he spoke to Norris’s parents and reviewed her medical chart.
Eventually, he saw police notes on all the reports Norris had made to them about the sexual assaults happening as she slept, which were all unsubstantiated.
An investigation into a complaint about a former basketball coach Norris said sexually abused her as a young teenager was abandoned due to her deteriorating mental health, the court has heard. Her parents have said they believe the abuse to be true.
Norris had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms in 2012, and was a participant in the Psychosis Intervention and Early Recovery (PIER) program under Dr. Kellie Ledrew, who testified last week.
Ladha noted the bipolar diagnosis could have been accurate at one time, but symptoms can change and worsen over time. He said a two-year gap in Norris’s file when it comes to hospital admissions for psychiatric treatment was likely because she was participating in the PIER program and taking her medication — both things she stopped doing in 2015.
“We are biochemical beings. These are biochemical illnesses,” Ladha said of schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and bipolar disorder, which have all been suggested in Norris’s case by various doctors. “Medication is extremely important.”
Ladha asked psychologist Randy Penney — who also testified last week — to conduct testing on Norris and do an assessment for a personality disorder.
“I was particularly interested in psychopathy,” Ladha said. Penney’s report indicated he did not believe Norris was a psychopath. It also indicated Norris was in a psychotic state when she killed Reardon. Describing the attack as “dreamlike,” Norris had told Penney during her assessment she had been afraid Reardon was going to break into her apartment and sexually assault her while she slept.
Monday morning, Dr. Neil Young, Eastern Health’s chief of mental health and addictions, took the stand, telling the jury of his interaction with Norris on April 18, about three weeks before she killed Reardon.
Norris was in the lockup on a charge of breaching a court order and he was called in, as one of four psychiatrists contracted by the province to respond to calls from the St. John’s lockup, to assess her before she was released.
There were some concerns about Norris being a danger to herself, Young said, and he spent about 15 minutes with her.
When he arrived, sheriff’s officers showed him a bag Norris had been carrying when she was arrested, containing a 20-foot piece of rope tied into a noose. Police had also found another bag, containing knives and bleach.
“I asked her what she was using the rope for, and she told me she was towing a car,” Young testified. “I asked what she was using to tow it and who owned the car, but there was silence.”
Norris told him she was a patient of the PIER program but had missed appointments and wasn’t taking her medication, though she denied feeling suicidal and refused to go to the hospital. He wasn’t able to get any information from her about delusions, but he noticed she often laughed inappropriately.
“At this point my thought was that this wasn’t adding up and I was very concerned for her safety,” Young said. “Thus I certified her.”
Norris was taken to hospital involuntarily and remained there until May 6, even though she was decertified about a week earlier.
Dr. Ladha will continue his testimony Tuesday, after which Hollett and Summers will have a chance to cross-examine him.
Justice William Goodridge, who is presiding over the trial, told jurors last week he expects proceedings to continue until the week of Feb. 19.