Kevin O'Brien says he found it strange two years ago, when he asked Anne Norris what had happened to Marcel Reardon and she told him Reardon had gone to a nightclub.
Norris and Reardon had left the downtown area a few hours earlier, O'Brien said, with the intention of going to Norris's Brazil Street apartment for some beer and then coming back. The next time he saw Norris, she was alone.
Norris's response to his question seemed strange, O'Brien says, for a couple of reasons. Reardon didn't go to nightclubs, for one. Also, it was 3:30 a.m., past closing time for most bars.
O'Brien followed up with another question, asking Norris why she had asked Reardon to go back to her apartment with her anyway, given that he was “being a dick” downtown while they were all hanging out together earlier.
“It was a mistake,” Norris allegedly replied.
O'Brien says Norris asked him to walk with her to the Ultramar station on Waldegrave Street to buy some cigarettes. He agreed. Surveillance video shows the pair walked down the steps between Duckworth Street and George Street, and then headed to the waterfront. O'Brien says he thought they were taking the fastest route to the Ultramar, until Norris told him that she wanted to go for a walk.
He says he told Norris it was late and they were both tired, and suggested they go back to her place with their friend, Jessica Peach, who was waiting for them on Carter's Hill. O'Brien and Peach were homeless and planning to sleep in a parking garage until Norris had offered to let them stay in her apartment for the night. She seemed “pretty cool at first,” O'Brien says.
O'Brien says Norris told him they'd go and sit by the water and have a cigarette and then go to the Ultramar. While they were doing that, O'Brien heard a splash, he says, and looked over to see the backpack Norris had been wearing — which she had borrowed from Peach — in the water about 10 or 15 feet out. She must have thrown it, he says.
“Why the f--- would you do that? Jessica's going to need that. She's going to be pissed off,” O'Brien says he told Norris.
Norris responded by saying she would tell Peach she had ripped a hole in the backpack by accident and would get her a new one.
The backpack was full, O'Brien says, though he didn't know what was in it.
“Anne Norris was adamant that we stay there and watch the backpack until it sank,” he told the court Thursday.
“Did she say why?” Crown prosecutor Jeff Summers asked.
“No, she did not,” O'Brien replied.
O'Brien was on the stand as the Crown's ninth witness in Norris's first-degree murder trial in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John's. Norris, 30, is accused of murdering Reardon, 46, by striking him repeatedly in the head with a hammer outside her apartment building in the early hours of May 9, 2016.
Norris has admitted to hanging out with Reardon, O'Brien and Peach downtown that day and evening, and leaving to go to the Topsail Road Walmart, where she purchased a 16-ounce steel nailing hammer and a knife. She has admitted to returning to the group and borrowing a backpack from Peach, and later getting a cab with Reardon to her apartment building. She has admitted to killing Reardon with the hammer and moving his body underneath a set of steps at the back of the building, before returning downtown alone, meeting up with O'Brien and going with him to the harbour. She has said she threw the backpack, which contained the hammer, a pair of jeans and some rope, into the water. It was recovered when the Canadian Coast Guard spotted it floating three days later.
O'Brien told the court he noticed no change in Norris's demeanour over the course of that day.
“She seemed nice,” he said. “I did not notice anything in particular about the way she was acting.”
Norris's lawyers say Norris has a long history of serious mental health issues, including delusions and extreme paranoia, and argue she was incapable of knowing what she was doing when she killed Reardon and tried to hide the evidence.
The court has heard testimony from another man — a fellow tenant of Harbour View Apartments — that Norris was worried she was being followed and had spoken of a stalker. He said that in the days after Reardon's death Norris seemed pleasant and calm, even though police were paying particular attention to her apartment and had banned her from it while they investigated.
Defence lawyers Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy submitted a package of RNC notes regarding complaints Norris had made to them between 2011 and March 2016, alleging sexual assaults from the time she was 13 years old. An older man she knew had repeatedly sexually assaulted her, she alleged, and she wanted to come forward to stop him from doing the same to other young girls.
In the more recent reports, Norris told police she was being drugged and raped by men she knew, including during a period of time when she was an in-patient at the Waterford Hospital, and that men had broken into various places where she had been living and raped or physically assaulted her while she was sleeping. She said she didn't wake up or remember the assaults, but felt they had happened. Sexual assault exams turned up no evidence, and there was never any evidence of a break-in. While giving her most recent report to police, Norris abruptly got up and left.
Norris's family members told police on a number of occasions they believed many of her allegations were false, and they were concerned for her mental health because she was showing “extremely paranoid” and delusional behaviour and was suffering from psychosis.
Sullivan read some of the police notes to the court, and they described Norris as being “very mentally ill” and providing inconsistent details.
Sullivan also questioned RNC Const. Ryan Pittman, the lead investigator in Reardon's murder case, about three 911 calls police received in the 24 hours before Reardon was killed. The audio recordings of the calls were played in court.
In the first, which came in at 11:20 p.m. on May 7, a woman asked police to come “as fast as humanly possible,” to a downtown residence, saying a man she called “Marcel Rideout” was intoxicated, angry and violent, and she was fearful for her safety. Police came and determined she was referring to Reardon. They located Reardon, but didn't see any signs of impairment. No charges were laid.
In the second call, which came in around 3 a.m. on May 8, a male caller told police a drunken “homeless guy” was in the Subway restaurant near George Street, causing trouble. Police attended and found Reardon intoxicated, and arrested him for breaching a court order to stay away from alcohol. He was held in the lockup overnight and released the next day.
The third call came in around 5 p.m. on May 8, saying Reardon — who had met up with O'Brien, Peach and Norris — was drunk outside Shamrock City. He wasn't arrested, after Peach told police that she would take care of him.
Peach also testified in court Thursday, and said she and friends often called Reardon “Uncle Marcel” because he looked out for them. He did have an aggressive side when he was drunk, she said, and had thrown a beer bottle into the street, urinated on the street and backhanded her across the face that day.
“I didn't think much of it, though,” she testified of the latter incident. “It didn't bother me. He didn't remember it.”
Reardon had been drinking beer, rum and vodka that day, Peach said, and had been taking Clonazepam, a prescription tranquilizer. She had been drinking and taking the pills as well, she said, and had ended up stomach sick because of it.
O'Brien and Peach both testified they had been panhandling for most of the day, and Reardon and Norris — whom O'Brien had met for the first time that afternoon — had been hanging out with them. Norris had asked O'Brien to go back to her apartment with her at one point, where they listened to music, flirted and kissed. It was later on, back downtown, that she asked Reardon to go back to the apartment with her for some beer.
After Norris had thrown the backpack into the harbour and bought cigarettes at the Ultramar, O'Brien said, she and he went to get Peach, and the three of them went back to Norris's apartment for the night. The next morning, Norris told her friends they had to leave, since she had to go with her aunt for a while.
It was upon leaving the building, O'Brien and Peach each testified, that they saw police officers and yellow tape outside. They later learned Reardon had been murdered and his body had been found under the back door steps.
Norris's trial will continue Friday morning with the cross-examination of O'Brien by Sullivan.