The last expert to testify at the murder trial of Anne Norris was the first to suggest Marcel Reardon’s death may have been prevented had she been treated differently in hospital in the weeks before she killed him.
Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, head of forensic psychiatry at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, Ont., testified via video as a rebuttal witness hired by Norris’s lawyers. Chaimowitz had reviewed medical and police files and other documents pertaining to Norris, and told the court he had come to the conclusion that she should be found not criminally responsible for killing Reardon by way of mental illness.
Chaimowitz reviewed the notes of Waterford Hospital staff during Norris’s last admission — a three-week stay that saw her released two days before she killed Reardon — and said Norris had been committed to hospital after she was found with a noose, bleach and a knife in a backpack. During her admission, Chaimowitz said, Norris’s diagnosis was essentially changed, her medications appeared to have stopped after she refused to take them and she was discharged into accommodations with no furniture.
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“Here’s a woman who was signalling alarm,” Chaimowitz said. “But she was released into the community with untreated issues. This is a woman with a history of major mental illness, a history of paranoid thoughts, she arrived with weapons and was certified. I believe she was emotionally unwell during admission.
“The signal given at admission appeared to be accurate. The signal resulted in the tragic death of the victim.”
Defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy asked, “Can you offer any opinion on whether or not Anne Norris should have been released from the Waterford?”
“The events of May 8, 2016, and it’s almost hard in retrospect to point fingers, were an unfortunate and tragic consequence of some ideas and a pattern that may have begun many years ago, but were signalled when she arrived in hospital with weapons that could hurt someone,” Chaimowitz responded.
Norris has admitted she was socializing downtown with Reardon and two others on May 8, 2016, then left to go to Walmart, where she purchased a hammer. She returned to the group and in the early morning hours of May 9, took a cab back to her Brazil Street apartment with Reardon. She killed him behind the apartment building by striking him repeatedly in the head with the hammer, then moved his body underneath a set of steps before changing her clothes, putting them in a backpack with the hammer and walking to the waterfront, where she threw the bag into the harbour.
Prosecutors Iain Hollett and Jeff Summers have argued Norris planned and deliberately killed Reardon and knew exactly what she was doing, and presented evidence that she had returned to Walmart three days later and attempted to purchase more hammers, knives and other items.
Kennedy and co-counsel Rosellen Sullivan have argued Norris was incapacitated by a mental illness that included psychotic episodes and delusions that she was being sexually assaulted as she slept, as revealed by numerous reports to police and doctors since 2012 to that effect.
Local forensic psychiatrist Dr. Nizar Ladha testified last week as an expert for the defence, saying Norris had told him during his assessment of her that she had believed Reardon was going to break into her apartment and assault or murder her, and “just couldn’t stop” striking him with the hammer. Ladha said he believes Norris suffers from schizophrenia or schizo-affective disorder and did not know what was morally right or wrong when she struck Reardon with the hammer.
Though he didn’t agree with a schizophrenia diagnosis — saying Norris likely suffers from bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes or schizo-affective disorder instead — Chaimowitz concurred with Ladha regarding Norris’s responsibility for Reardon’s death.
“I believe this was almost a defensive killing and she believed it was morally right,” Chaimowitz testified, explaining he believes while Norris did understand that what she was doing was legally wrong, she had been living in fear due to her delusions and felt it was necessary. “It’s my medical opinion she would have been significantly delusional and felt that she needed to act to protect herself.”
Upon cross-examination by Hollett, Chaimowitz acknowledged this is the first time he has been hired by defence lawyers as an expert witness in a not criminally responsible case, but had not had the opportunity to interact with the accused person directly.
“It’s extremely unusual,” he told Hollett.
Hollett also asked Chaimowitz about a statement Norris had given to police, saying she had told two friends, Kevin O’Brien and Jessica Peach, that she would leave her apartment door unlocked so they could come and stay with her that night.
“That doesn’t suggest to me someone who was living in fear,” Hollett said.
“No, it doesn’t, you’re right,” Chaimowitz answered.
Hollett pointed to Norris’s statement to Ladha that Reardon had fallen down drunk and she didn’t want him in her apartment because he was bleeding from the nose. She didn’t mentioned being afraid, Hollett said. He also referenced Norris telling Ladha she was “just really angry” because of past trauma and a belief she had been repeatedly sexually assaulted at the time she killed Reardon, and he happened to be a man and there.
“Wouldn’t that suggest another explanation, other than psychosis?” Hollett asked Chaimowitz.
“Yes, that is another explanation that should be considered,” he replied. “If she is a woman, was upset and angry, and just had to kill somebody, that is a possible explanation.”
He said it was his medical opinion, however, from reviewing the records, that Norris was “significantly unwell to the point where it robbed her of the ability to know right from wrong.”
Earlier in the day, the defence wrapped up its questioning of Dr. Jasbir Gill. Apart from Ladha, she is the province’s only other forensic psychiatrist. On Monday, she testified as an expert for the Crown, saying she believes Norris suffers from bipolar disorder and borderline personality traits. Gill suggested there could be a “reality-based motivation” for killing Reardon, relating to anger over having been sexually abused by a former basketball coach when she was a child, feelings of abandonment or difficulty coping with things happening in her life.
Under questioning by Sullivan, who suggested Gill had tailored her report to match a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, Gill said it was possible Norris could have suffered from psychotic symptoms. Norris had declined an interview, so it was impossible to be more precise, Gill explained.
After 17 days and 31 witnesses, testimony has now wrapped in the murder trial, and Justice William Goodridge told the 12 members of the jury to return Thursday morning, when lawyers will give their closing submissions. Goodridge will then instruct the jury on how to apply the law in this case, and they will begin verdict deliberations.