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‘No good evidence’ Anne Norris had psychotic episode: doctor’s report

Accused murderer Anne Norris waits for court proceedings to start in St. John’s Wednesday morning.
Accused murderer Anne Norris waits for court proceedings to start in St. John’s Wednesday morning. - Tara Bradbury

Psychiatrists disagree about Anne Norris’s mental state around the time she killed Marcel Reardon

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Dr. Kellie Ledrew’s diagnosis of Anne Norris’s mental health issues didn’t change from the time she started seeing her in May 2012 to the last time she saw her in January 2016.

Ledrew wasn’t offended, she told the court Wednesday, when another psychiatrist offered a different diagnosis.

“It’s not my practice to disrespect other people’s opinions,” she said from the witness stand. “I respect other people’s opinions. I could understand to some extent why she made some of her comments.”

Back on the stand in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s for a second day, Ledrew was cross-examined by Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers, who referred to a report from a different doctor, forensic psychiatrist Dr. Jasbir Gill, who had assessed Norris after she was arrested for murder.

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Ledrew felt Norris was suffering from bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms. She spent much of her time on the stand going through her treatment notes at the request of defence lawyer Jerome Kennedy and responding to questions about Norris’s mental state at various times over the four-year period she was being seen by Ledrew and others with the psychosis intervention and early recovery (PIER) program at the Waterford Hospital.

Norris first presented with delusions, Ledrew said — firmly held beliefs that she was being sexually assaulted by her boyfriend, intruders and other people while she slept. As Norris took her medication and participated in the program, she seemed to get better; when she didn’t and the psychotic episodes came back, Norris grew extremely paranoid, convinced she was being repeatedly assaulted again as she slept or believing her parents were poisoning her food. Norris’s family members had concerns she was using a lot of cannabis.

At the time Ledrew last saw Norris, four months before Norris killed 46-year-old Marcel Reardon, she was having psychotic symptoms again, Ledrew testified. Norris had been calling the police to report perceived assaults, visiting the hospital for physical exams that showed nothing wrong, and living in various shelters. She wasn’t believed to be taking her medication, and the treatment team was having trouble tracking her down, since she no longer wanted to participate in the program.

Shown video footage captured by surveillance cameras at Walmart on May 8, 2016 — when Norris went to the store and purchased the hammer she used hours later to kill Reardon — Ledrew was asked by Kennedy to describe what she saw.

Ledrew said Norris’s hygiene and personal care appeared to have decreased compared to the young woman she had treated, and noted Norris was hunched over a shopping cart, seeming to walk around in a daze, oblivious to others in the store.

Norris is seen in the video with an empty drink packet hanging from her mouth, and Ledrew said it could suggest disordered thinking on her part.

“She would bring coffee to our sessions, and she wouldn’t just have a coffee cup hanging out of her mouth like that,” Ledrew said.

When shown a video from Norris’s visit to Walmart four days after Reardon’s death, when she returned to the store and attempted to buy more hammers, knives and other items, Ledrew made similar observations, noting Norris appeared to be displaying characteristics that could be explained by acute psychosis.

At the time of the videos, Norris had been out of hospital for about 10 days, released after a three-week stay with a different medication schedule than Ledrew had been prescribing. Norris wasn’t taking her medication when she arrived at the Waterford, notes revealed, and refused to take most of them during her stay. Ledrew’s success with prescribing her lithium was noted in the file, though it wasn’t given to Norris, who was discharged with anti-psychotic drug Seroquel at a dosage of 25 milligrams a day. Ledrew had been giving her 600 milligrams.

Norris was assessed by Dr. Gill  during  a hospital stay a year before her arrest. Gill noted in a report that there was no evidence Norris was suffering from  psychotic episodes. Norris couldn’t provide a description of any episodes prior to that hospital admission, Gill wrote, suggesting Norris was displaying behavioural traits consistent with a borderline personality disorder instead. Other clinicians who had seen Norris in the past had offered similar opinions, the report noted.

“In the first 15 months (of Norris’s treatment), we didn’t get that picture,” Ledrew told Summers during cross-examination. “When people are sick or only partially treated, the worst in their personality comes out.”

Summers pointed out Ledrew had written in her file at one point near the last time she had seen Norris that Norris was displaying borderline behaviour.

“I wasn’t labelling her with the disorder,” Ledrew countered. “In the context of a team, I had to take into account what other people were saying.”

“And were these comments you agreed with at the time?” Summers asked.

“Well, I wrote it,” Ledrew replied, visibly frustrated.

Those around Norris were saying she was not adhering to rules and was difficult to get along with, the psychiatrist explained, which wasn’t consistent with what she had observed when Norris was well.

The Crown’s cross-examination of Ledrew will continue Thursday morning, as Week 3 of Norris’s first-degree murder trial wraps up.

Norris has admitted to spending time with Reardon and others in downtown St. John’s during the afternoon and evening of May 8, 2016, before leaving and going to Walmart, where she purchased a hammer and a knife. She returned downtown and took a cab with Reardon in the early hours of May 9 to her apartment building on Brazil Street. She has admitted she killed Reardon by striking him several times in the head with the hammer, then moved his body underneath a set of steps at the back of the building. She then returned downtown and threw a backpack containing the hammer and other items into the harbour. It was recovered days later.

Crown prosecutors say Norris planned and deliberately killed Reardon and is guilty of first-degree murder. Defence lawyers say Norris should be found not criminally responsible for Reardon’s death due to a severe mental illness.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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