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Norberg case expected to go to jury Tuesday

Dr. Harjinder Virdee testifies regarding the medical history of Dr. Alonna Norberg during the trial of her husband, Dr. Jon Norberg, on Monday in District Court in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - Jurors are expected to start deliberating the case of Fargo surgeon Jon Norberg today after the defense rested Monday without Norberg testifying, calling as its last witness a psychiatrist who said Norberg's wife has a history of attention-seeking and making up symptoms for physical illnesses she doesn't have.

"Her credibility's very low," Dr. Harjinder Virdee said about Alonna Norberg, who claims her husband drugged her with the powerful sedative propofol and sexually assaulted her while she was unaware.

However, a Sanford Health psychologist who treated Alonna Norberg for more than a year and a half testified under court order that he disagreed with Virdee's diagnosis and didn't believe Alonna Norberg was seeking attention or being untruthful.

"I did not have that impression, no," said Larry Bauste, who was called as a rebuttal witness by the prosecution.

Judge Douglas Herman said the state has one or two additional rebuttal witnesses before closing arguments today. The jury should get the case by mid- to late afternoon, he said.

Diagnoses differ

Virdee said she spent 100 to 150 hours sorting through "boxes and boxes" of Alonna Norberg's medical records, which she described as "a maze."

She found a total of 15 psychiatric diagnoses, including depressive, anxiety and pain disorders; dependence on opioid drugs such as oxycodone; and obsessive-compulsive, histrionic and narcissistic personality traits, she said.

Her evaluation included a 4½-hour interview with Alonna Norberg, which she said is about three times longer than a typical interview. Most sexual abuse victims don't want to go into detail about what happened to them, but Alonna Norberg "volunteered everything" about her sexual assault allegations, Virdee said.

"In my 35 years of practice as a doctor, this way of spontaneous, meticulously detailed, graphic details that she gave is inconsistent with a sexually abused person I have seen," she said.

Virdee diagnosed Alonna Norberg with somatization disorder, in which the patient has physical symptoms - including pain - but no cause can be found. The patient is convinced something is physically wrong with him or her and won't accept a psychiatric explanation, Virdee said.

"They cannot believe that it's attributable to a mental disorder," she said. "They'll usually tell you, 'There's nothing wrong with my head, and I'm not coming to see you.' "

But Bauste said he didn't think Alonna Norberg met the criteria for somatization and instead diagnosed her in 2008 with the less specific undifferentiated somatoform disorder.

Virdee also diagnosed Alonna Norberg with the related factitious disorder, which is in the same group as somatization but is different in that the patient intentionally produces or feigns the symptoms.

"They just want somebody to come and help them," Virdee said.

On cross-examination by prosecutor Reid Brady, Virdee acknowledged she was the only psychiatrist to diagnose Alonna Norberg with factitious disorder.

"I'm the only doctor who reviewed all the records, as well," she added.

'A healthy person'

Alonna Norberg's status as a physician - she stopped practicing in 2008 and is now on Social Security disability, according to testimony earlier in the trial - helped her convince doctors that something was physically wrong with her, even though "hundreds of tests were negative," Virdee testified.

"She was a healthy person, but she was on medications," she said. "She was on 20, 30, 40, 50 - never less than 20 medications. Different dosages, different times of the day. I don't know how she did take 50 medications. In my 35 years of practice, I have never seen a patient on 50 medications."

Alonna Norberg has said she allowed her husband to inject her with the powerful sedative Diprivan three times to alleviate her pain from Sjogren's syndrome, a rare immune system disorder, and to help her sleep, but that she told him to stop using the drug when she found out Diprivan was the brand name for propofol.

The defense contends that Alonna Norberg made false allegations to gain the upper hand in the divorce case she was planning.

Virdee testified that when Alonna Norberg met with a psychologist in Fargo on June 16, 2011, hours before the alleged assault, she told the psychologist she'd contacted a divorce attorney and that she believed Jon Norberg could easily tamper with her medications so that she would overdose.

"It's like she's bringing this up before it happens," Virdee said.

Virdee said she found "no immunodeficiency" in Alonna Norberg's records and questioned whether she may have been infecting herself, noting her infection from a cesarean section lasted six months.

The defense had requested the independent examination of Alonna Norberg and paid Virdee $300 per hour for her work, she testified, noting she put in at least 100 hours.

Sister-in-law testifies

Jon Norberg's sister-in-law, Kori Norberg, said that in the months before the sexual assault allegations were made, she had frequent conversations with Alonna Norberg about her and Jon Norberg's marriage.

"She was very concerned that because of the difficulty she had had with addiction issues and also her medical and her addiction issues, that Jon was going to take her kids away from her because she was incapable of taking care of them," Kori Norberg said.

During a 22-minute phone conversation on June 17, 2011, the day after the alleged sexual assault, Alonna Norberg "never" mentioned being raped the night before and her demeanor "was fine," whereas she had seemed "scattered" in previous conversations, Kori Norberg said.

On cross-examination, Kori Norberg acknowledged that her husband, Doug Norberg, the defendant's brother, is an attorney from the Denver area who has aided the defense, including lining up expert witnesses from the Denver area who testified last week. Kori Norberg said she had talked with her husband and with Jon Norberg about the case.

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.

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.