There was no reasoning with Anne Norris once mental illness took hold, her father Gary testified Monday.
Not when she was convinced people were repeatedly breaking into her home and sexually assaulting her at gunpoint or beating her up while she slept.
Not when she carried around a box cutter or kept a baseball bat, a steak knife or a BB gun under her bed for protection from imagined intruders.
Not when she accused him of shaving her face or when she said she was dying of AIDS or when she believed people were poisoning her coffee.
It had all started when Anne was about 24. Gary Norris said she had been a bright child, athletic, optimistic and social, preferring to float around instead of attaching herself to particular friends for long. Accomplished in basketball and karate, Anne was studying in a petroleum engineering technician course at the College of the North Atlantic when she told her parents she was going to police to tell them she had been sexually assaulted by a former coach when she was a young teenager. Choking back tears, Gary Norris said he and his wife, Florence, believed their daughter’s allegations and supported her going to police.
The murder trial of Anne Norris: what you need to know
Over the course of the investigation, Gary said, he became concerned about Anne’s mental health, to the point where the investigation was halted. She became paranoid, saying police were following her, and that the coach was driving back and forth in front of her house, he said.
When Anne contacted the husband of her boyfriend’s female colleague to say his wife had been having an affair and urged him to get tested for diseases, Gary said, he and Florence insisted Anne come home to live with them.
“She started to exhibit strange behaviour,” Gary said. “One time she opened the bedroom door and said, ‘My face is sore. Did you shave my face last night?’ I said no, and she asked her mother, ‘Why did you let him do that?’”
Another time, Gary took Anne out for lunch, and she told him she had AIDS and was going to die. She hadn’t seen a doctor or had any blood tests, she told him — she just knew she had AIDS.
One day, Gary said, Anne told her parents she needed surgery to correct what she said was a genetic genital deformity.
Anne eventually took herself to the Waterford Hospital, saying she was losing her mind, Gary said, teary-eyed. They transferred her to the psychiatric ward at the Health Sciences Centre, where she was admitted. After five or six weeks, Anne was discharged with medication and support from a mental health team.
Over the next year or so, Anne began working in a hardware store and threw herself into her studies, checking herself in the hospital again at one point, because she felt her medication wasn’t working. In July 2014, after being turned down for a work term, Anne started sleeping all day and staying up all night, Gary said. One time, Gary called the police after she went out for a walk in -30 C weather and didn’t come home; she was found at a nearby auto repair shop.
Living by herself in April 2015, Anne filed another police report, saying her new boyfriend had broken into her apartment, held a gun to her head and sexually assaulted her. She wouldn’t stay in the apartment after that, and filed a peace bond against the man.
“I knew in my heart and soul it wasn’t true,” Gary said.
He was so convinced, when the day of the peace bond hearing came, he picked the young man up and went with him to court. The matter was dismissed, since Anne was in the hospital again at that point.
“A couple days after making the report to police, she went to the Waterford. Her aunt was with her,” Gary said. “They wouldn’t admit her. They gave her medication and sent her home. As she was leaving, Anne was yelling, ‘I’m going to kill myself.’ Her aunt said to a nurse, ‘Did you hear that?’ The nurse said, ‘I heard it, but I can’t do anything about it.’ As they were walking out, Anne tipped her head back and swallowed all 20 pills. She went back to the hospital and had her stomach pumped.”
Discharged and back with her parents, Anne took Florence’s car in the middle of one night; she was found by police in Holyrood, and her psychiatrist issued a committal order. She stayed in hospital that time for about a month, and earned herself criminal charges while she was there after she threatened a nurse’s children.
Anne stayed with her aunt for a few months after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, but later moved home. She wasn’t taking her meds, Gary said, and she told her parents it was because she was afraid the pills would put her in a deep sleep and she wouldn’t be able to defend herself from attackers in the night.
Gary found a baseball bat and a steak knife under his daughter’s bed at different times, he said, and in the fall of 2015 he found a BB gun, along with pellets and extra carbon dioxide cartridges needed to fire it. He took the cartridges and hid them, but left the gun.
“I was afraid that in Anne’s mental state she’d get upset and angry,” he explained.
Later, when he found the gun in Anne’s purse, he took it.
That fall, Gary said, his family was struggling, since Anne wasn’t getting any better. He and Florence spoke to hospital social workers, asking if treatment outside the province was an option, but were told no. Anne agreed to take her medication by monthly injection instead of by a daily oral dose, but the family was later told this wasn’t an option, either, he said. When Anne was admitted to a program at Emmanuel House, but was hesitant to go, Gary and Florence brought her there and then left the province, figuring she’d just leave the program and end up back on their doorstep if they didn’t.
Anne left the program anyway and began moving around between shelters, Gary said. They came home at Christmas and tracked her down at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, but she spent two hours at their house before she asked to go back.
The next time Gary saw Anne was in the city lockup, after she was arrested for the murder of 46-year-old Marcel Reardon.
Sitting in the prisoner’s dock, Anne cried as her father presented his account of her struggles at her trial in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday morning, the first witness for defence lawyers Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy.
Crown prosecutors Iain Hollett and Jeff Summers rested their case last week after calling 23 witnesses to the stand.
Reardon’s brother, Scott, listened quietly as Gary Norris testified, comforted at times by his wife.
Anne Norris has admitted to killing Reardon in the early morning hours of May 9, 2016, by striking him repeatedly with a hammer she purchased at Walmart hours earlier. She moved his body underneath a set of stairs at the back of the Harbour View Apartments building on Brazil Street, where she lived, before throwing a backpack containing the hammer and other items into St. John’s harbour.
Sullivan and Kennedy say Anne should be found not criminally responsible for killing Reardon due to her mental illness.
Hollett and Summers say she is guilty of first-degree murder, having planned to kill Reardon and done so, knowing full well the consequences.
The trial continues Tuesday morning. The Crown will cross-examine Gary Norris before the defence calls its next witness.