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Father-in-law: Norberg made plea for wife to recant

Robert Knorr, Dr. Alonna Norberg's father, testifies that Dr. Jon Norberg asked him to pressure his daughter into changing her story to derail his criminal trial during the trial Wednesday in District Court in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - The prosecution dropped what the judge described as "a bombshell" in the trial of Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg on Wednesday, a day when the defense also grilled his wife about whether their divorce motivated her allegations.

His father-in-law testified that a week before the trial, Jon Norberg met with him at a Fargo restaurant and suggested Alonna Norberg recant her claims that the orthopedic surgeon drugged her without her consent and sexually assaulted her while she was sedated.

Alonna Norberg's father, Robert Knorr, said he was in Fargo for a North Dakota State University football game on Saturday, Oct. 27, when he learned through a family member that Jon Norberg wanted to meet with him. They spoke briefly at the game and agreed to meet at 11 a.m. the next day at Mexican Village in south Fargo.

Under questioning by Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Gary Euren, Knorr said Jon Norberg told him at the restaurant that he "wanted to visit about the trial that we're in now."

"He said that he thought that this would be very harmful to the children and to the families, and I agreed with him, and I said, 'Jon, as far as I see it, there's nothing that we can do,' " Knorr said.

He said Norberg told him he wanted a "global settlement" to resolve the criminal matter, the couple's divorce case and a civil case that Robert Knorr had filed against Jon Norberg in February regarding a dispute over Knorr's house in McLean County.

"He had written down on a slip of paper that Alonna was the only one who could stop this," Knorr said. "And I said, 'Well, how would she do that?' And he said, well, she could either say that it was a dream or that she was lying or that she didn't remember, and the trial could be stopped."

Knorr said Norberg "suggested that we would either talk to his attorney or find another criminal attorney and they could tell us what we would have to do" to stop the trial.

"I told him that there was no way that that was going to happen that I could see," Knorr said.

Knorr said Norberg also said "any consequences" from the trial could affect his ability to regain his medical license, which the state Board of Medical Examiners suspended indefinitely in January.

"And that would affect his family how?" Euren asked.

"He wouldn't be able to support them," Knorr said.

Jon Norberg is charged with gross sexual imposition, a Class AA felony punishable by up to life in prison upon conviction. He also faces a Class C felony reckless endangerment charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years.

Judge: 'Just so bizarre'

Jon Norberg's attorney, Robert Hoy, tried to keep the jury from hearing Knorr's testimony, arguing to Judge Douglas Herman that it was inadmissible as a protected conversation because it was an offer to compromise or resolve ongoing litigation.

But Herman - speaking without jurors present - said the jury could believe it was an effort by Jon Norberg to obstruct a criminal prosecution and therefore was admissible.

Herman was livid with the attorneys about the testimony, saying it was the first he'd heard of it and calling it "quite a bombshell that's being delivered to me now."

Hoy said the defense knew Knorr was going to be called as a witness but believed he was going to testify about another issue.

Herman said he was "shocked" that the conversation between Jon Norberg and Knorr happened.

"I wouldn't have guessed in a hundred years that this would have happened, in part because you've done such a grade-A-plus job in your representation," he said to Hoy.

"Why would your client do something that is just so bizarre, such incredibly bad judgment?" Herman said. "He's charged with a double-A felony. Why would he do this? Why would he do this, create this problem?"

Afterward, State's Attorney Birch Burdick declined to say if Jon Norberg could face additional criminal charges for the conversation with Knorr.

Motive questioned

Earlier Wednesday, Hoy asked Alonna Norberg if she knew that making the allegations would benefit her in the couple's divorce case and also in a previously unpublicized malpractice suit she served on her husband earlier this year.

The divorce complaint is dated July 6, 2011, the day after Alonna Norberg first went to Fargo police with her allegations that her husband drugged her with the powerful sedative propofol without her consent and committed sex acts on her while she was sedated on the night of June 16-17, 2011. The divorce case is set for trial Jan. 14.

"Are you aware that a conviction of your husband in this case will result in you getting custody of the children in your divorce case?" Hoy asked Alonna Norberg in her third day of testimony.

"Mr. Hoy, I don't know how this case will relate to the next case. This case is about this case. It's about what happened between Jon and I. Leave the children out of it," she said.

Hoy showed her a summons for the malpractice suit that was prepared on her behalf by her divorce attorney. The civil action, which names Jon Norberg and his co-workers as defendants, hasn't been filed yet in Cass County District Court. It seeks a judgment of more than $50,000.

"Are you aware that a conviction of your husband in this case would be of assistance to you in your malpractice case against him?" Hoy asked Alonna Norberg.

"No," she said.

"You think they're completely disconnected?" Hoy said.

"I'm not a lawyer. I don't understand all of that. I know we're here for this reason, and the other reason, the malpractice case, is because of what happened to my body, and so I'd prefer to leave them separate and I can't make that kind of transfer," she said.

Turning the tables

Alonna Norberg also was questioned about an affidavit she signed seeking a domestic violence protection order against Jon Norberg in the divorce case on July 5, the same day she first met with police.

Hoy asked her if she knew from reviewing state law that if she made allegations of domestic violence - specifically of sexual activity compelled by force - that she would get a court order giving her temporary possession of the couple's home and custody of their three children.

"Requesting the protection order had nothing to do with any of that. There was protection for myself because of what he had done," she said.

Hoy also asked if her allegations against her husband have had an impact on her family relations, referring to her younger sister's testimony last week that she had backed away from Alonna Norberg in the year before the allegations were made. She said her sister is now "extremely supportive" of her.

"So you have, at least so far, managed to turn the tables on your husband, have you not?" Hoy said.

On redirect, prosecutor Gary Euren brought up an appointment Alonna Norberg had with her psychologist on April 14, 2011, during which she said they discussed her marital problems, stress and depression, including an incident around St. Patrick's Day in 2011 in which she claims her husband performed a nonconsensual sex act with her she had previously said she was opposed to doing. Her father testified Wednesday that she called him distraught about it afterward.

She said divorce came up during the discussion with the psychologist - an important point for the prosecution to counter the defense's claim that it was Jon Norberg who first threatened divorce two months later during a Mediterranean cruise, which he claims ultimately led to her allegations.

Alonna Norberg said her concerns about divorce were "specifically that I was fearful of him. I was scared, and he was so verbally abusive and psychologically abusive that I felt like he made me feel like I was going crazy, and I was scared," she said.

She said she told her psychologist she didn't want a divorce because "I wanted our children to have a mom and a dad."

Advocate testifies

Jurors also heard from an expert witness called by the prosecution to help explain why Alonna Norberg didn't report the alleged assault on June 16-17 to police until more than two weeks later - even though, as the defense has noted, Alonna Norberg is a physician who helped write guidelines for law enforcement and health care workers in collecting evidence of sexual assaults.

Elizabeth Olson, executive director of the First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center and a trained advocate for sexual assault victims for 20 years, said victims describe it as a life-threatening event.

"They get so focused on the assault and the crisis afterward that they have difficulty concentrating and remembering," she said.

Olson said that in her experience of dealing with more than 1,000 adult sexual assault victims, "the closer and more involved the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim, the less likely that person is to report (the assault), or the less likely they are to report immediately," she said.

Though The Forum does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assaults, Alonna Norberg consented to be named to contest her husband's claims that she gave him permission to use propofol on her and that he never sexually abused her.