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Anne Norris not a psychopath, assessing psychologist testifies in St. John’s

Psychologist Randy Penney leaves the witness stand in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Thursday.
Psychologist Randy Penney leaves the witness stand in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Thursday. - Tara Bradbury

For the first time since her murder trial began, on Wednesday the jury heard Anne Norris’s version of what happened the night she killed Marcel Reardon.

The account didn’t come directly from Norris, but rather through Randy Penney, a psychologist who conducted a two-day assessment of her last year.

Toward the end of the assessment, Penney had asked Norris to bring him back to May 8, 2016 and tell him what happened. She gave him an account of what he felt was a fairly typical day for someone living in a shelter, passing the time downtown. She told him that she had been with Reardon and two others near the Subway restaurant on the corner of Adelaide and Water streets.

“It was a day of kind of hanging out in the area, killing time, socializing,” Penney told the court, paraphrasing what Norris had told him.

There was alcohol, and Norris said she had helped get some for Reardon at one point, though she wasn’t drinking much and was sober.

As the day went on, Reardon became quite intoxicated, the psychologist recounted, and Norris had made note of instances where he was in the middle of the street and had thrown a beer bottle. A woman in the group had gotten cut and they were worried he would be hit by a car.

“I asked her to tell me what she knew about Mr. Reardon,” Penney said. “This may have been part of the delusions, but she believed he had been aggressive with two other women, one of them sexually.”

Norris mentioned going back to her Brazil Street apartment for a while with one of the guys in the group, then returning with vodka. She believed Reardon was hoping to crash at her apartment for the night, and ended up getting a cab back to her place with him.

“She felt there was no way she was going to let him into her apartment,” Penney said. “She went into the apartment by herself and Mr. Reardon was left on the sidewalk.

“I had the impression she was very fixated on Mr. Reardon being outside. She was becoming more and more anxious and it was feeding into her past delusions. It led to a very disassociated state, which led to going out and attacking Mr. Reardon with the hammer.”

The court has heard Norris often suffered from false beliefs that people — boyfriends, her aunt’s boyfriend and intruders — were breaking into her home and sexually assaulting her while she slept. She went to police a number of times to file reports to this effect, but they were never substantiated.

In his report, Penney noted Norris said “she was certain she would die that night. She believed (Reardon) would come in and murder her in her bed.”

At that point in the assessment, Norris was having trouble telling Penney what happened, so he suggested she switch to speaking in third person. She did, telling Penney she had gone outside to deal with Reardon and was very calm during the attack, which was “like a dream.”

Penney said Norris told him that she felt panicked and “mortified” after the attack, and surprised at how much damage she had done to Reardon.

“She must hide it from everyone,” Penney noted Norris as saying. “No one must know what she had done. But she was unable to do this for very long.”

Penney assessed Norris according to a number of psychological tests, reporting she scored low on the scale for psychopathy — nine points out of a possible 40 — and concluding she wasn’t a psychopath.

The test results indicated Norris was suffering from a generalized anxiety disorder and had symptoms similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder, due to the trauma of the attacks she firmly believed she had suffered in the past.

“Our perceived reality is our reality,” he explained.

Penney suggested a diagnosis of schizophrenia.

“I felt it was important to include the suggestion. It was just so evident,” he told the court, referencing Norris’s history of delusions and other factors. “Having said that, other diagnoses, like bipolar disorder with psychotic episodes or schizo-affective disorder, would fit.”

Penney, who has had a long career specializing in forensic psychology, working with Corrections Canada and the John Howard Society, said he had no access to Norris’s medical or prison records or the police file when he conducted the assessment, and had relied on Norris’s own test responses as well as detailed notes provided by her family.

He had also had a brief conversation with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Nizar Ladha, who had been hired by defence lawyers to conduct a psychiatric assessment of Norris, and who had given him some context.

Upon cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers asked Penney if it was usual for him to rely on information from an accused person and their family and nothing else in an assessment.

“There’s a need for solid corroboration,” Penney replied. “In this case, there were two very credible family members.”

“Would it have been helpful to you to have the police report?” Summers asked.

“I’m looking for personality traits. You’re not going to get a lot of information about personality traits from a police report,” Penney answered.

Summers asked Penney whether he had probed Norris about what she meant when she spoke of “hiding” after the attack. He said he assumed she meant Reardon’s body.

Questioned by Summers, Penney said he wasn’t aware at the time of the assessment that Norris had gotten rid of the hammer by putting it in a borrowed backpack and throwing it in the harbour, or that she had lied to the owner of the backpack about what had happened to it, and had said Reardon had gone to a nightclub when someone asked where he was.

“Would that have changed her score?” Summers asked of Norris’s test results.

“If anything, it would take me away from a diagnosis of a psychopath,” Penney replied, adding that the actions showed she felt guilt and shame for what she had done.

Penney was the second to take the stand at Norris’s murder trial Thursday, which marked the 12th day of proceedings. Earlier in the day, psychiatrist Dr. Kellie LeDrew finished her testimony and was cross-examined by the Crown.

Ledrew treated Norris from May 2012 until January 2016, and said she was sticking by her diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic symptoms, even though other clinicians disagreed.

Norris had done well on medication, Ledrew told the court, but had stopped taking it at the time of her last appointment and no longer wanted to participate in a treatment program. Without proper treatment, Norris’s psychotic episodes returned, Ledrew said.

Norris has admitted to killing Reardon and hiding his body underneath a set of steps at the back of her apartment building before throwing the hammer in the harbour. Her lawyers, Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy, argue she should be found not criminally responsible for his death due to a severe mental illness. Summers and fellow prosecutor Iain Hollett say Norris knew what she was doing when she purchased the hammer and used it to strike Reardon repeatedly in the head, and is guilty of first-degree murder.

The court will deal with legal matters before the jury returns Monday morning.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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