When Anne Norris checked back into the homeless shelter at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre in January 2016 after a few weeks away, she was different, staff members say.
The last time they saw her, she was well-groomed, pleasant, polite and nice. She seemed grateful for the services provided by the facility and for the people providing them.
This time, she was the opposite. She wore her pyjamas much of the time, and slept late. She was more dishevelled, had lost a little bit of weight, swore often and was generally rude.
“She didn’t seem to care. She was very, very rude to staff, and rude to me,” Angie Paul, who was a cook at the centre at the time, told the court Monday. “On a number of occasions, when I tried to implement rules, she’d roll her eyes at me and was like, ‘Whatever, it’s not a big deal.’”
Norris stayed at the centre until April, when she was moved to a different facility. A non-profit organization offering a number of programs to the aboriginal and broader community, the Native Friendship Centre — in addition to offering emergency shelter — provides free accommodations for aboriginal clients travelling from Labrador to St. John’s for medical treatment. Staff will organize to transfer clients seeking emergency shelter to another facility in order to make room for those visiting for medical appointments. Norris wasn’t staying at the centre when video surveillance captured her sitting in the sun on a bench outside the main office, smoking a cigarette.
As a staff member stands nearby having a smoke, Norris is seen standing up and opening a large backpack. She takes out a purse, then closes the backpack. Cigarette hanging from her mouth, she walks over to a dumpster and places the backpack inside and closes the cover, before going back to sit on the bench. She finishes her cigarette and eventually walks away.
Paul said she was working when a colleague came in and said she had noticed what appeared to be a brand-new backpack in the dumpster. Paul went outside to look, and recognized it as Norris’s. The shelter manager told her to leave it in case the owner came back to get it, but Paul didn’t.
“I had a really weird feeling about it,” she explained to the court, under questioning by Crown prosecutor Iain Hollett.
Paul said she opened the bag and saw garbage bags and cleaning supplies. She reached in and pulled out a KitchenAid butcher knife, still in the package.
Inside the building, Paul and three colleagues, including manager Mohamed Abdallah, emptied the contents of the bag in the office.
“It was pretty disturbing, actually, the contents of the bag,” Paul said Monday. “We were all kind of looking at each other in shock, discussing what this really possibly was.”
Inside the backpack were two butcher knives, a hammer, a mallet, garbage bags, two pieces of rope, a scrubbing brush, a sponge, long rubber gloves, rubber-palm work gloves, Armor-All cleaning products, a flashlight, a navy dress, a metal clothes hanger, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and a lighter.
After checking surveillance video footage and determining it was Norris who left the backpack in the dumpster, the staff called police to report what they had found. In the meantime, Abdallah told them to tell Norris, if she came back, that she had to leave. Around 11 that night, Norris did.
Surveillance cameras caught Norris walking up to the dumpster, opening it and looking in, before closing it again and walking away. A few seconds later, she came back, opened one side of the dumpster and then the other, poking around inside. When she turned to leave empty-handed, a staff member came outside and spoke to her; Norris is seen on the video stopping to listen, then raising her hand in a wave and leaving.
When police later confronted Norris about the backpack, she denied it was hers.
Three days after ditching the backpack, Norris was admitted to the Waterford Hospital, where she remained for three weeks. Two days after her release, she bought a hammer at Walmart and used it to kill 46-year-old Marcel Reardon behind her Brazil Street apartment building, moving his body under a set of concrete steps. He was found by another tenant the next morning.
Norris has admitted to socializing downtown with Reardon and two others for most of May 8, 2016, before leaving the group, going to Walmart on Topsail Road and buying the hammer and a knife, then returning. She has admitted she and Reardon took a cab back to her apartment building late at night, and she used the hammer to kill him. She has admitted to throwing a backpack containing the hammer, a pair of jeans and some rope into St. John’s harbour.
Norris was arrested May 13, 2016, and charged with first-degree murder in connection with Reardon’s death. She has been in custody ever since.
In Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in St. John’s Monday morning, RNC forensic identification officer Const. Pam Pike reviewed photos of the recovered backpack for the jury, pointing out the jeans had what appeared to be mud stains on the knees and backside. As a witness for Hollett and prosecutor Jeff Summers, Pike produced the hammer, sealed in a clear plastic bag. The jurors passed it between themselves, each one examining it briefly.
Pike also told the court about items seized from Norris’s apartment in the days after she killed Reardon, including a bath robe, scarf and socks later found to contain specks of Reardon’s blood, as well as a pair of sneakers, which Pike said were hidden on a shelf, containing Reardon’s blood, hair and brain matter embedded in the tread.
Norris’s lawyers, Rosellen Sullivan and Jerome Kennedy, say Norris was suffering from a severe mental illness that left her incapable of understanding what she was doing when she killed Reardon and got rid of evidence, as well as when she returned to the same Walmart and attempted to purchase more hammers and knives four days later.
Over the past week, the court has heard Norris has long suffered from bipolar disorder with delusions and psychosis, along with extreme paranoia. The defence has also painted a picture of Reardon as drunk and aggressive on the night Norris killed him, and has suggested Reardon may have gotten aggressive with her.
Cross-examining Abdallah, Sullivan asked him about statements he gave to police and at the preliminary inquiry about Norris returning to the shelter past curfew, with two bite marks on her neck.
“Yes, I said bite mark, but I meant hickey,” Abdallah said.
“But you said bite mark,” Sullivan replied. “The only other two times you mention it you say bite mark, but now you’re saying hickey?”
“I’m not sure linguistically if they’re different,” Abdallah responded.
Abdallah also told the court that staff at the Native Friendship Centre had offered mental health counselling to Norris multiple times, but she declined.
Dr. Simon Avis, the province’s chief medical examiner, is expected to testify at Norris’s trial Tuesday.