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Jury pool questioned about media coverage as Norberg sex assault trial begins

FARGO - Jury selection in the trial of a Fargo surgeon accused of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife began this morning with potential jurors being given pads of paper and pencils to write down what they have seen and heard about the case.

Because of intense media coverage of the Jon Norberg case, Judge Douglas Herman asked all 59 jury candidates to answer three questions: whether they have seen or heard anything about the case since filling out a jury questionnaire several weeks ago; the nature of what they saw or heard; and whether it will make it more difficult for them to be a fair-minded juror.

Herman excused two jurors after reviewing their answers with the attorneys. Another was excused because he was hard of hearing.

Herman told potential jurors that the trial, which is the first in the new $14.7 million addition to the Cass County Courthouse, is estimated to take two weeks, with jury deliberations possibly lasting until Thanksgiving.

Norberg is charged in Cass County District Court with gross sexual imposition - a Class AA felony carrying up to life in prison - and reckless endangerment for allegedly drugging his wife with propofol and engaging in sexual acts with her while she was unconscious.

He was charged in August 2011, one month after his wife filed for divorce. To avoid the risk of trial, Norberg pleaded no contest on Jan. 3 to the Class C felony reckless endangerment charge and a reduced misdemeanor charge of sexual assault, but he later withdrew the pleas after it became apparent they would affect the divorce case, which is set for trial on Jan. 14.

The reckless endangerment charge is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Dressed in a dark suit, Norberg sat at the defense table between his two attorneys, Robert Hoy and Andrew Cook. Assistant Cass County state's attorneys Gary Euren and Reid Brady occupied the prosecution's table with Fargo Police Detective Paul Holte, their designated case agent.

Unlike most criminal trials, in this case jurors were told ahead of time in the questionnaire what case they would potentially be hearing.

Jury selection - which started about half an hour behind schedule - got under way with 36 jurors being called up as an initial panel. The jury will eventually be whittled down to 12 jurors and two alternates.

Herman, alluding to the sensitive nature of the case, told potential jurors that attorneys will try not to pry into their personal affairs during the selection process. Those who are uncomfortable or too embarrassed to answer a question in front of the others will be taken into the jury deliberation room to answer it in private.

Jury selection is expected to last all day today and might take a significant part of Tuesday, Herman 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.