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In cross-exam, defense in Norberg trial tries to poke holes in testimony of propofol expert

FARGO - The defense attorney for a Fargo surgeon accused of drugging and sexually assaulting his wife attempted this morning to undercut expert testimony that Jon Norberg had put his wife at risk by not following proper procedures for administering a powerful sedative.

On cross examination, an expert on propofol admitted that patients may respond differently to the drug.

"Every drug has inter-patient variability, some more than others," said Dr. Steven Shafer, a professor of anesthesiology at Stanford University and a star witness in the trial of the doctor convicted in pop singer Michael Jackson's death.

Shafer had testified Wednesday that based on the case information he reviewed, including police search warrant reports and an affidavit from Jon Norberg, he believed the orthopedic surgeon's monitoring of Alonna Norberg while giving her propofol, his ability to resuscitate her and the fact he had sex with her while she was sedated were "all well below the standard of care."

On cross-examination by defense attorney Robert Hoy, Shafer acknowledged that beyond what was in the affidavit and Alonna Norberg's statements, he didn't know exactly how, when and in what dosage Jon Norberg administered the drug. He agreed with Hoy that Jon Norberg would have been in a better position - "in fact, the only position," Hoy said - to make observations required under the guidelines to determine his wife's level of sedation.

"Candidly, no amount of calculations and estimations and arithmetic can substitute for that type of observation under the guidelines, correct?" Hoy asked.

"Correct," Shafer said.

Hoy also noted that the sedation guidelines, established by the American Association of Anesthesiologists for people like Jon Norberg who aren't anesthesiologists, don't refer to someone in a moderate level of sedation as being "unaware" as Shafer described Wednesday, but rather in a "drug-induced depression of consciousness." Norberg had stated in his affidavit that his target level of sedation for his wife was minimal or moderate.

Questioned again by Assistant State's Attorney Gary Euren, Shafer testified that when the guideline states a depressed level of consciousness, "that does not exclude a complete lack of awareness."

Jon Norberg faces up to life in prison if convicted of the Class AA felony charge of gross sexual imposition. He's also charged with Class C felony reckless endangerment, punishable by up to five years, for allegedly putting his wife's life at risk by using the drugs on her in a non-hospital setting and without proper personnel and safety equipment.

The trial, which began this week, is expected to last at least two weeks and possibly until Thanksgiving.

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 give her propofol to treat her pain from an autoimmune disease.