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Fargo doctor rape hearing: Wife had scores of meds removed from home

Dr. Jon Norberg, center, along with defense attorney Robert Hoy, left, exits the preliminary hearing Wednesday on the gross sexual imposition charge he faces in Cass County District Court in Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

FARGO - The night Alonna Norberg claims her husband first raped her, she had met with a divorce lawyer for the first time earlier in the day.

And the day before she told police of her allegations against her husband, she called her housekeeper and asked her to remove three 25-gallon totes full of prescription drugs and empty medication bottles from their Fargo home.

The attorney for accused Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg highlighted those and other instances as he tried to get the charge of gross sexual imposition and reckless endangerment dismissed in a probable cause hearing Wednesday in Cass County District Court.

Robert Hoy's last witness for the day had a job conflict, so Judge Douglas Herman, who will decide whether there's probable cause for the case to proceed to trial, suspended the preliminary hearing until 9 a.m. today.

The roughly two hours of testimony gave a more detailed look at the state's case against Jon Norberg, an orthopedic surgeon who is accused of administering a powerful sedative to his wife in their Rose Creek home and raping her.

To avoid the risk of trial, Jon Norberg had previously pleaded no contest Jan. 3 to the reckless endangerment charge and a reduced misdemeanor charge of sexual assault. But he withdrew the pleas after it became apparent they would affect his pending divorce case.

Though The Forum does not usually identify alleged victims of sexual assault, Alonna Norberg consented to be named to contest her husband's claims that he never sexually abused her and had her permission to treat her with propofol.

A 'clip in time'

Fargo police detective Paul Holte provided the most compelling testimony Wednesday, recalling the three-hour interview with Alonna Norberg that set the investigation in motion.

A private investigator hired by Alonna Norberg's divorce lawyer brought her to the Fargo police station on July 5. Holte said Alonna Norberg - who is also a doctor - told him she had been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and her husband had suggested using Diprivan - a brand name for propofol - to relieve her pain. She said she took it for a while but told her husband to stop giving it to her after her doctor told her what it was and its dangers, Holte said.

In late May or early June 2010, the couple was on a cruise in Barcelona, Spain, when Alonna Norberg confronted her husband about his alleged inappropriate behavior with other women and he told her he was contemplating a divorce, Holte testified.

Describing the night of June 16-17, when the first alleged rape took place, Alonna Norberg told Holte she had a memory or "clip in time" of her husband on top of her performing a sex act. When she woke up, there were physical signs she'd had sex, and on the nightstand she found a bottle of Diprivan and medical supplies to administer the drug through a port in her chest, she told police.

She gathered the items and brought them to a neighbor's house, Holte said. Three days later, she woke up and found another bottle of Diprivan.

"She believed it was being used without her knowledge and against her will," Holte said.

Family members and the private investigator told her what was done to her was criminal. She went to Minot and had her urine tested. It tested positive for propofol, Holte said.

Alonna Norberg also described in graphic detail an incident in which she had just gotten out of the shower and was flirting with her husband when she went unconscious. Afterward, she believed there had been sexual activity. She recalled smelling a "fruity" smell, which is consistent with sevoflurane, an ether-like drug, Holte said.

Police seized a bottle of sevoflurane and an open case of Diprivan with only four of the 20 bottles remaining from two safes in their home when a search warrant was served.

Interviews cited

In an interview with a custody investigator, Jon Norberg said the propofol was administered for pain but also for sexual intercourse, Holte said. During a phone conversation police recorded, Jon Norberg also acknowledged to his wife he had sex with her while she was on propofol, Holte said.

However, in a statement Jon Norberg later gave to the North Dakota Board of Medical Examiners before it indefinitely suspended his license, he denied having sex with his wife while she was on propofol.

Hoy highlighted Holte's testimony that Alonna Norberg didn't seek medical attention or police assistance immediately after the alleged rapes, and that she didn't go to police until 2½ weeks after the first incident, preventing police from processing the alleged crime scene right away. Hoy asked Holte if police had any physical evidence of the alleged sexual assaults.

"Other than her statements, no," Holte said.

On July 4, the day before she went to police, Alonna Norberg called her nanny and housekeeper and asked her to pick up the totes full of medication from the home, Holte said. He said Alonna Norberg saved all of the medications she'd been prescribed, but it was unclear from testimony why she wanted them out of the home. Jon Norberg has claimed his wife was dependent on narcotics.

Alonna Norberg said during the police interview that if she got divorced, she wanted legal and physical custody of the couple's three children, Holte said in cross-examination.

Hoy also questioned the handling of evidence, noting that the items from the nightstand were held by Alonna Norberg's divorce lawyer, Patti Jensen of East Grand Forks, Minn., before being brought to police. Hoy also grilled Holte about why he removed the needle from the device allegedly used to administer the drug, which could potentially be a key piece of physical evidence.

Holte said he removed the needle for safety reasons.

Privilege issue raised

Hoy attempted to question Jensen and her hired private investigator, Charles "Chuck" Anderson, but both repeatedly refused to answer questions, citing attorney-client privilege stemming from the divorce case.

Herman, the judge, said the privilege issue will have to be sorted out before trial if the state plans to call Jensen and Anderson as witnesses. He didn't force them to answer most questions posed Wednesday.

Hoy protested, saying Anderson had "become the investigator" in the case, and that he had a right to question him.

"This isn't a game," Hoy said.

After the hearing, Assistant Cass County State's Attorney Gary Euren said the state has other evidence and testimony that will come out at trial. The recording of the phone conversation between the Norbergs "was one of several things we used to make a determination we had a case," he said.