Dean Barnes had never seen a shoplifter act the way a woman in Walmart was acting that evening in May 2016.
A customer service representative at the Topsail Road location of the department store, Barnes was following the woman around at the request of his manager. She had been caught trying to shoplift from there a few days earlier, and they were making sure she didn’t attempt to steal anything again.
At first, Barnes and manager Sean Mugford were subtle about tracking the woman around the store, but eventually they made it obvious, wanting to let her know they knew what she was up to. They followed her up and down practically every aisle. Watching her in the knife section was an “interesting time,” Barnes later said.
“We don’t get a lot of people taking the knives out of the package, running their finger over the edge,” he told the court Tuesday morning.
Norris ditched ‘disturbing’ contents in dumpster a month before killing Marcel Reardon, St. John’s court hears
Anne Norris not criminally responsible in killing, lawyers tell St. John’s court
The woman — Anne Norris — didn’t seem drunk or stoned to Barnes. She appeared “pretty solid,” he said, but was talking to herself and making strange hand gestures, flicking her fingers as if she was counting.
“She looked like she was thinking, plotting,” Barnes testified. She walked in his direction at one point, he said, looking at him with a “menacing grin.”
“Sorry to say it, but it looked like there was no one home,” Barnes said of Norris’s demeanour that night. Her eyes were glazed over and he wondered if she was mentally ill, he said.
Mugford also made note of Norris’s smile. He stopped her as she attempted to leave the store wearing a backpack she had selected from a display and filled with items. He asked her to give the bag to him. He said she replied, “Why?”
“I said, ‘You haven’t paid for it,’” Mugford testified. “She said something to the effect of, ‘What do you want me to do with it?’ She smiled at me and I thought it was creepy. Eventually she said, ‘OK, give me a minute,’ and went back into the store.”
Followed by Barnes, the woman came back about 10 minutes later, and went to the checkout to pay for a hammer. Mugford stood behind her as she attempted to use her debit card. When it was declined a couple of times, he said, she made a comment to the cashier about him making it happen.
Norris left the store in handcuffs: unbeknownst to Mugford and Barnes, undercover RNC officers had also been following her around the store, having spent the day watching her. After she tried to pay for the hammer, they arrested Norris and charged her with first-degree murder in connection with the death of Marcel Reardon four days previously.
Three of the officers also testified at Norris’s murder trial Tuesday, saying they had been watching her since shortly after 8 that morning, setting up at Harbour View Apartments on Brazil Street, where she lived. It was the same building behind which Reardon’s body had been found underneath a concrete step.
The officers arrested her at the Walmart at 8:30 that night, walking up to her, showing their badges and identifying themselves as police, then telling her she was under arrest for murder.
“Why?” Norris asked, according to one of the officers. He said that after a short pause, she asked them, “Are you serious?”
In the police car, when asked if she wanted to speak to a lawyer, Norris replied, “Sure,” the court heard.
Crown prosecutors Iain Hollett and Jeff Summers have called 22 witnesses to the stand over the past week, including police officers, paramedics, people who socialized with Norris in the hours before and after Reardon’s death, Walmart staff and others who had contact with her.
Hollett and Summers allege Norris planned to murder Reardon and knew exactly what she was doing when she bought a hammer, invited him to her apartment and killed him by striking him repeatedly in the head with the tool before putting the hammer, a pair of jeans and some rope into a borrowed backpack and throwing it into St. John’s harbour.
The backpack was recovered a few days later and turned over to police. The hammer contained Reardon’s DNA and tested positive for blood, as did a number of pieces of clothing in Norris’s apartment.
Some of the witnesses have described Norris as pleasant, polite and friendly, with nothing out of the ordinary about her demeanour, while others said they noticed something “off” about her.
Sherry Sheppard was working as a cashier at Walmart the night of May 8, when Norris purchased the hammer she used hours later to kill Reardon. Sheppard testified Tuesday that Norris told staff she wasn’t finished shopping when they informed her at 10 p.m. the store had closed.
When Norris was caught by security guards trying to leave with hammers, knives, towels, a shower curtain, flashlights and other items, she told them Sheppard had already checked her in; Sheppard told the guards that she hadn’t, and Norris came to the cash to pay. Sheppard said Norris picked up a hammer from her cart and inspected it, bouncing it in her hands.
“She looked at me, looked at it again, looked at me, looked at it again,” Sheppard testified. “I stepped away and the reason I stepped away is because I didn’t know if I was going to get hit because I had approached her a couple times (to tell her the store had closed).”
Sheppard told the court Norris had seemed quiet, strange and “not in the present.”
“She looked through me like I was a ghost,” Sheppard said.
Norris, 30, has admitted she was socializing with Reardon and two others downtown on May 8, 2016, and left to go to Walmart, where she attempted to obtain hammers, knives, towels and other items. When she was caught by security guards trying to leave without paying, she purchased a kitchen knife and a 16-ounce steel nailing hammer, then returned downtown.
Norris has admitted she and Reardon went back to her apartment building and she killed him, moving his body underneath the steps before going back downtown and throwing the backpack into the harbour. She has admitted to returning to Walmart May 13 and attempting to obtain a number of other items, including a backpack, hammers and scissors, but was arrested.
Norris’s lawyers, Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy, have submitted evidence to the court suggesting Norris had long suffered from serious mental health issues, including bipolar disorder with delusions, psychosis and paranoia, and had spent three weeks in the Waterford Hospital, and was released days before she killed Reardon.
Over the past week, they have questioned the witnesses on Norris’s behaviour and their perceptions of her, presenting her as paranoid and unwell in the days around Reardon’s death and incapable of understanding what she was doing.
Sullivan pressed Barnes on his use of the word “menacing” to describe Norris’s smile at him, asking him why he never used the adjective in his statements to police, in which he described her smile as “odd” instead.
“That’s what I thought I was conveying by saying it was odd,” Barnes replied.
Dr. Simon Avis, the province’s chief medical examiner, will testify Wednesday morning. The Crown is expected to rest its case and turn things over to the defence by Monday.