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Murder trial of former Newfoundland athlete enters final phase this week

Last Updated Feb 18, 2018 at 10:00 am EDT

Anne Norris, 28, charged with first-degree murder, appears via video link from the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville, N.L., on Tues., May 24, 2016. Anne Norris appears an unlikely killer. The former elite Newfoundland athlete, whose father was once the province's top civil servant, admits she repeatedly hit Marcel Reardon in the head with a hammer early in the morning of May 9, 2016. Her defence team includes a former provincial justice minister who argues she did it in the grips of a mental disorder and should be found not criminally responsible. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sue Bailey

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – Anne Norris appears an unlikely killer.

The former elite Newfoundland athlete, whose father was once the province’s top civil servant, admits she repeatedly hit Marcel Reardon in the head with a hammer early in the morning of May 9, 2016.

Her defence team includes a former provincial justice minister who argues she did it in the grips of a mental disorder and should be found not criminally responsible.

But prosecutors say Norris, now 30, planned a deliberate killing and then threw away the weapon — a 16 oz. Stanley hammer. She’d bought it at a Walmart a few hours before repeatedly striking Reardon’s skull as he lay passed out near her St. John’s apartment building.

Her trial before a jury of six men and six women at provincial Supreme Court enters its final phase this week. Among other issues, they must grapple with questions about the line between mental illness and criminal responsibility.

Closing arguments are expected before Justice William Goodridge instructs the jury and deliberations begin.

Norris has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder.

An agreed statement of facts says Norris met up with Reardon, 46, and two other people in downtown St. John’s on the early evening of May 8.

Later that night she went to the Walmart where she attempted to buy three hammers, two bath towels, four kitchen knives and a fabric liner, it says. Her debit card was declined so she was able to buy just the single hammer and a knife.

Norris then rejoined Reardon and the other two people, including one who agreed to let her borrow a backpack.

A cab driver took Norris and Reardon back to her apartment building in the early hours of May 9.

Retired psychologist Randy Penney testified Norris told him she became nervous when Reardon started breaking beer bottles. He said Norris felt that Reardon expected to sleep at her apartment, which she didn’t want.

Reardon fell asleep outside her building.

The last witness for the defence, forensic psychiatrist Nizar Ladha, said Norris told him she took the hammer and went to investigate when someone buzzed her apartment door. No one was there so she went looking for Reardon, who was passed out on the ground nearby.

He testified Norris told him she couldn’t stop striking Reardon and was delusional when she “fully intended” to kill him.

Ladha quoted her as saying: “I continued hitting him because he wasn’t dead.”

Norris admits she dragged Reardon’s body under the apartment building stairs where it was found the next morning.

The agreed statement of facts says she then put the murder weapon, her jeans and some rope into the borrowed backpack and threw it in St. John’s harbour.

It was recovered two days later.

Norris has shown little emotion through much of the trial, which started Jan. 22. She wept, however, when Gary Norris testified that his daughter was a confident, athletic and social child.

Anne Norris was named to the provincial women’s under-19 basketball team at the junior national championships in 2005. She was also highly skilled in karate.

Gary Norris said psychological issues escalated after she told her parents in 2011 that she was going to the police about an alleged sexual assault. The case would later be put on hold as concerns increased about her mental health.

Norris testified that over a two- to three-month period in 2015, he found a baseball bat under his daughter’s bed, a steak knife, a BB gun and a box cutter in her purse.

He described her downward spiral into paranoia about threats and attacks that didn’t appear to be real.

She believed at times that someone was following her. Norris said at one point his daughter claimed “someone put something in my coffee.”

Norris would be in and out of the Waterford psychiatric hospital in the years that followed, including a stay that ended just days before she killed Reardon.

Her ex-boyfriend, Brian Constantine, cried as he testified that Norris was a “people person” who loved to laugh before she slid into a depression.

Constantine, 31, told the jury there were several times he believed Norris’s mental health was slipping.

He recalled looking after his niece one night when Norris called, begging him to return home. She was distraught when he arrived. Cupboard doors in the house were open or torn off.

Constantine testified that she wouldn’t speak, but eventually wrote down that she had been molested. He testified that Norris once accused him of assaulting her in the night. He told her: “I would never do that.”

Constantine said Norris broke down, asking: “What’s wrong with me? This seems so real.”

—With files from VOCM

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