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Anne Norris not criminally responsible in killing, lawyers tell St. John's court

Anne Norris speaks with her lawyer, Jerome Kennedy, prior to the start of her first-degree murder trial Monday afternoon.
Anne Norris speaks with her lawyer, Jerome Kennedy, prior to the start of her first-degree murder trial Monday afternoon. - Tara Bradbury

Defence says woman was mentally ill at time of Marcel Reardon’s slaying

Shawn Pumphrey got up half early that sunny morning in May 2016. Having moved into the Harbour View Apartments building in downtown St. John’s the previous week, he still hadn’t gotten his phone connected, so he set out to find one and call his brother to wish him a happy birthday.

Leaving by a door at the back of the building, he paused on the concrete step, noticing something on the grass. At first, he thought someone had thrown a pot of something from the kitchen out their apartment window. Then he noticed there was blood. Standing on the sidewalk, he saw a red article of clothing, tucked tightly underneath the steps he had just descended. He leaned over to look further under the stairs, and saw skin: what appeared to be a man’s back, between jeans and pushed-up sweatshirt. The hood of the sweatshirt was a darker red than the rest of it, Pumphrey noticed. That’s when he ran back inside and called for the superintendent, telling him to call 911.

RNC Const. Vanessa Woodman was the first officer on the scene, just minutes after the report of a deceased male had come in. She saw the man under the stairs, lying on his stomach, face turned to the side. He had a mustache, she noticed. There was a lot of blood. About five feet away, there was brain tissue on the grass.

Related story:
Jury selected, Anne Norris first degree murder trial due to start Monday

When a forensic officer turned the body over, Woodman recognized it as that of Marcel Reardon, 46. She had had some minor dealings with him in the past, most recently the previous month, when she had arrested him for mischief. He had been evicted from his residence and, angry, had damaged the property.

Two evenings after Reardon’s death, Larry Daley was operating a fast-rescue craft in St. John’s harbour when he overheard a call from the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Terry Fox, reporting a blue backpack floating in the water between piers 9 and 10. Since he was near, Daley radioed back, offering to retrieve it. He pulled his boat alongside the backpack and used a gaff to hook it and pull it in. He opened it, and inside was a yellow-handled hammer, some rope and a pair of ladies’ American Eagle leggings, size six. He turned the backpack over to police.

Anne Norris, then 28, had moved into the Harbour View Apartments building, Apartment 307, around the same time as Pumphrey, shortly after she was released from the Waterford hospital. The pair didn’t meet until three days after Reardon’s death, at a previously planned gathering of tenants hosted by NDP MHA Gerry Rogers.

Norris was enjoying coffee and a muffin when Pumphrey met her, and she told him that she was waiting for police to leave her apartment so she could get back in. She had been away for a couple of days, when police had visited each tenant’s apartment to take DNA samples and photos, so officers were attending to hers now.

Apartment 307 was relatively bare inside. A blanket was pinned to a window for privacy, and what looked like a sleeping area had been made from couch cushions and a blanket on the floor. There was a book, a scented candle, an empty coffee cup. The was also a pair of black sneakers, a white scarf and a green bathrobe — all containing Norris’ DNA and specks of Reardon’s blood — and the packaging from a hammer was in the garbage.

Pumphrey stayed with Norris, and suggested she check with police to see when she would be allowed back into her apartment.

She said didn’t want to bother them, he said Monday in court, but eventually officers told her that she wouldn’t get back in that evening. Norris didn’t seem too bothered by it, Pumphrey testified.

Eventually, the building owner gave Norris temporary use of an empty apartment for the night, but she decided to go stay with an aunt instead, according to Pumphrey. She returned around 10 p.m. and rang his buzzer.

Speaking from the witness stand in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Monday, Pumphrey said he felt bad for Norris, and gave her a foam camping mattress and some bedding, and brought his laptop down to the temporary apartment so the pair could watch a movie — “The Intern” with Robert De Niro, he said. Pumphrey said he left around 1 a.m. and the pair had plans to meet the next morning for coffee. A police officer sat outside the door the entire time, he said, but Norris never mentioned it or seemed concerned.

The next morning, Pumphrey lent Norris some sweatpants, T-shirts, a sweater and a pair of sneakers. They went for a walk downtown, chatting about music videos, basketball, childhood, the upcoming summer. At one point Norris stopped and looked around, Pumphrey said, feeling like she was being followed. Pumphrey had heard Norris tell the building owner the previous night that a man was stalking her and had left a note on her door.

Norris also spoke briefly of suicide, Pumphrey said, and he took it to be the reason she had been admitted to the Waterford. Overall, he said, she seemed in good spirits.

“She seemed very pleasant, courteous, polite, well-rounded, well-brought-up, as we say,” Pumphrey told the court. “She didn’t seem concerned for the police investigation. I don’t think she understood the potential gravity of that.”

Pumphrey last saw Norris later that day, when she said she was going to the Village mall to pick up some things. He said he was shocked to later learn she had been charged with first-degree murder.

“She didn’t seem like someone who would do that,” based on her personality and small physical build, he said.

At her murder trial Monday, Norris admitted, through a signed statement of facts, that she and Reardon and two others had hung around together downtown in the afternoon and evening of May 8, 2016. Norris left the group and went to the Topsail Road Wal-Mart, where she purchased a 16-ounce hammer and a knife before returning to the group. She borrowed a backpack from one of the others and, in the early morning hours of May 9, got a cab with Reardon, who was heavily intoxicated, back to Harbour View Apartments. A few hours later, she returned downtown alone and met up with one of the other people before throwing the backpack into the harbour.

Norris was arrested four days later when, after leaving Pumphrey’s company and going once again to the same Wal-Mart, she attempted to obtain a backpack, scissors, a coat and two hammers.

Through the statement of facts, Norris admitted she had beaten Reardon to death with the yellow-handled hammer found in the backpack floating in the harbour, and had moved his body under the stairs.

Norris’s lawyers, Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy, say they intend to prove she was too mentally ill at the time to be criminally responsible for her actions.

“The issue we want you to focus on is Anne Norris’s mental state,” Sullivan told the jury in her opening address, saying Norris had been an exceptional athlete and “full of potential” until 2011, when her mental illness brought her on a downward spiral.

Sullivan said Norris had contacted police three times over the course of a year to make unsubstantiated reports of intruders breaking into her home and sexually assaulting her while she slept. Doctors will testify to Norris’s mental-health issues over the course of the trial, Sullivan said.

“The facts are not in dispute,” she said. “It’s the interpretation of the facts we will ask you to consider in our closing address, in the context of mental illness.”

Norris’s trial continues Tuesday.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury

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