WARNING: This story contains graphic language.
It was likely not the first time Dr. Simon Avis’s testimony had drawn tears in a courtroom.
One one side of the gallery: the family of Anne Norris, 30, charged with murdering Marcel Reardon, 46, with a hammer in May 2016.
On the other side, Reardon’s family, seeing his autopsy photos for the first time, often lowering their head to avoid them.
People on both sides were emotional as Avis told the court of Reardon’s injuries, saying they were among the most damaging he had ever seen in his 30 years as a forensic pathologist. While photos were displayed on a number of screens in the courtoom, Avis said Reardon had died by homicide due to extensive blunt force trauma to the head. Fragments of bone and brain matter had been found at the scene, and “the top of the skull almost completely fell out in fragments” during the autopsy, Avis explained.
At one point, defense lawyer Jerome Kennedy asked the judge if Norris’s screen could be turned off, saying, “We don’t need to see (the photos).” Justice William Goodridge agreed, and the screen was turned away and switched off.
Minutes later, Norris reached out, turned the screen back towards her and switched it back on. The photos reappeared.
Norris seemed ‘odd,’ witness tells St. John’s court
Avis told the court he had been called to Harbour View Apartments the morning of May 9, 2016, where Reardon’s body had been located under a set of concrete steps at the back of the building. The autopsy was conducted at the hospital the next day.
Reardon, who was 5’10” and 181 pounds, had received multiple deep lacerations to the top, back and sides of the head, Avis explained; some of the lacerations were more complex than others and there were too many to count. There were brain hemorrhages of various depths, and the posterior part of the brain was in pieces.
The base of the skull — the plate at the bottom, separating the brain from the facial structures — also had multiple fractures, Avis said.
“This ranks as one of the most damaging injuries I’ve seen,” Avis said when questioned by Crown prosecutor Iain Hollett. “Having done this for 30 years, this ranks up there as one of the most destructive."
Avis also told the court about toxicology test results, saying Reardon’s blood-alcohol level was four times the legal limit at the time of his death. There was evidence of liver changes consistent with a habitual drinker, he said, telling defence lawyer Rosellen Sullivan upon cross-examination that it would be uncommon for a mere social drinker to get to that blood-alcohol level without becoming violently ill.
Hollett and fellow prosecutor Jeff Summers rested their case Wednesday morning, having called 23 witnesses over the past week and a half to testify at Norris’s trial.
There’s an agreed statement of facts in the case: Norris has admitted to socializing with Reardon and others downtown on May 8, 2016, then leaving and going alone to Wal-Mart, where she purchased a hammer. She then returned downtown.
In the early morning hours of May 9, she and Reardon got a taxi to Harbour View Apartments, where she lived. She has admitted to killing Reardon with a hammer and moving his body underneath the steps before returning downtown and throwing a backpack containing the hammer, a pair of jeans and some rope into St. John’s Harbour.
Norris returned to Walmart four days later and attempted to obtain two more hammers, scissors, a backpack and other items. Under police surveillance at that point, she
was arrested by undercover officers and charged with first-degree murder.
The Crown alleges Norris planned to murder Reardon and did it deliberately, fully understanding the consequences. The defense contends Norris is not criminally responsible for her actions, since she had long suffered from serious mental health issues. Kennedy and Sullivan presented evidence that Norris had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, suffered from delusions and psychosis, and had been acting unwell around the time she killed Reardon. Days before his death, Norris had been discharged from the Waterford hospital after a three-week stay.
Goodridge and the lawyers will deal with some procedural issues for the rest of this week, and the trial will resume Monday with the defence expected to call its first witness.