Is Billy Norbury Insane?

The defense began presenting evidence Tuesday regarding the question of Billy M. Norbury's sanity at the time he shot and killed his Redwood Valley neighbor, Jamal Andrews. A jury has already convicted Norbury, 34, of first-degree murder with a special allegation that he used a 30-30 Winchester rifle to kill Andrews, 30, on the night of Jan. 24. The same jury is now tasked with deciding whether Norbury was legally insane at the time of the shooting.

Mendocino County Superior Court Judge John Behnke told the jury it must find that Norbury was legally insane if, “one, when he committed the crime he had a mental disorder or defect and, two, was incapable of knowing the nature or quality of his actions, or (that he was) incapable of understanding that his actions were morally and legally wrong.”

Because Norbury changed his not-guilty plea in July to one of not guilty by reason of insanity (commonly called an NGI plea), his Ukiah defense attorney, Al Kubanis, has the burden of proving it was more likely than not that Norbury was insane when he killed Andrews.

Norbury faces 50 years to life in prison for the crime, but if he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norbury will spend his sentence at a mental health facility, and could at some point qualify for an outpatient program and live in the community, according to Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, who is prosecuting the case.

Kubanis called his client's friends and family to the witness stand, starting with Norbury's lifelong friend Tucker Kelley, and ending the day in the middle of testimony from his father, Billy Dean Norbury.

Kelley told the court about an incident when he visited Billy M. Norbury and put his cell phone up to his ear to play a humorous message for him. “He pulled away and asked me what I was doing,” Kelley said. “He told me he knew what I was doing.” Kelley went on to say Norbury had told him there was a “plane up there flying and you guys are messing with me right now.” He also related an incident a month later, roughly in October 2010, when Norbury became suspicious of a mail van that came to his house. “He told me he was at his house and a mail van came by, and there was people in the mail van that were going to jump out and get him,” Kelley said on the stand. Kelley said when he got the news of the shooting, “it didn't surprise me ... because of the last time I saw him and the manner (in which) he was acting.”

Kubanis also called to the stand Emma Norbury, Billy M. Norbury's great-aunt, who said she had visited him during the week prior to the shooting. She said she saw her grandnephew “pacing the floor, laughing to himself, mumbling something that you couldn't understand” on several occasions that week, and that he took three or four baths daily in an indoor hot tub, changing clothes each time. One night, she testified, she heard Norbury come home at about 1 or 2 a.m. and “start wailing” in his bedroom. She described the sound as “laughter and crying together, it was so uncontrollable.” The wailing went on for about 10 minutes, she testified.

Eyster asked her about differences between her testimony and a statement she had given to Kubanis' investigator, and whether she had spoken with family members about the trial. Billy Joe Norbury, the defendant's 72-year-old grandfather, testified that on one occasion, his grandson had appeared in the living room wearing only a towel and asked, “Papa, can you hear them,'“ referring to “those voices.'“ “He looked me right in the eye and said, Papa, can you see me?' He needed help and he didn't get it,” Billy Joe Norbury said on the stand.

Family members took the younger Norbury to the hospital emergency room that night, but he “dashed for the car” when an emergency helicopter landed outside. “He thought the helicopter was going to haul him off or take him out or whatever,” Billy Joe Norbury testified.

Asked by Eyster if the witness had told a deputy he had eaten dinner with the defendant between 5 and 6 p.m. the night of the shooting, Billy Joe Norbury said he hadn't. Eyster asked the witness if he knew his grandson had an alcohol problem, and the witness said “he drank a few beers” but hadn't gotten himself “into trouble.” The elder Norbury testified that he knew his grandson had his license suspended because of alcohol, and later said, “I didn't know if he had a license or not.”

Kubanis also called to the stand Monica Van Camp, the defendant's maternal aunt, who had first been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and later as “minor bipolar” when she was on medication. Eyster questioned whether her diagnosis had been wrong the first time, and she testified that her problem with violence went away after a doctor changed her medication.

Last on the stand Tuesday was the defendant's father, Billy Dean Norbury. He told the court his son had on one occasion believed his family meant to kill him, and that he ducked when walking by windows and shielded his head when walking by doors. One night, Billy Dean Norbury testified, his son took a rifle from his gun safe. The younger Norbury had pushed his father when he tried to put it back, according to the testimony, and the father called police. While waiting for police to arrive, he said, his son slapped his face and sent his glasses flying.

A psychologist subsequently testified that he had diagnosed convicted killer Billy M. Norbury as a paranoid schizophrenic. “This is a brain-damaged individual (who was) not medicated,” Dr. John Podboy said on the witness stand last Wednesday afternoon. “His thought process is not linear, it's nonsensical. He has big blocks of time he can't account for -- not hours but days.”

Dr. Podboy was called to the stand in the second phase of the murder trial, where Norbury's Ukiah defense attorney, Al Kubanis, is making his case to the jury that it was more likely than not that Norbury was legally insane at the time of the shooting. Norbury in July changed his not-guilty plea to one of not guilty by reason of insanity (commonly called an NGI plea). Insanity is a legal term under state law meaning that because of a mental defect or disorder, the defendant didn't understand the nature or quality of the act, or was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong. If he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norbury will be referred to spend his sentence at a mental health facility, and could at some point qualify for an outpatient program and live in the community, according to Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, who is prosecuting the case.

Podboy, a clinical forensic psychologist, said he had interviewed Norbury three times for a total of about six hours to prepare for the trial, and had used several tests to assess Norbury. Podboy said Norbury had showed signs of having “persecutory delusions,” being “disconnected from reality” and having “auditory hallucinations.” Schizophrenia is exacerbated by drug or alcohol use, according to Podboy, who also had noted that Norbury, who he acknowledged was an alcoholic, drank to lessen the effects of voices telling him to “do bad things.” The condition worsened, Podboy said, when Norbury's now-estranged wife left him and filed for divorce. “Once she left with the three children, he lost his grasp on contextual reality,” Podboy said.

At Kubanis' urging, Podboy clarified that meant Norbury could not “agree on what's going on. His inner world would overtake him. His inner world was very disturbing for the most part, and it's something he can't control.”

At one point in his questioning, Kubanis picked up the murder weapon and showed it to Podboy and the jury, making a point that the rifle required lever-action cocking for each of the three shots Norbury fired that night. Eyster had said in his closing arguments during the guilt phase of the trial that the action required to fire the rifle showed Norbury was able to think through what he was doing. “He was striking first so he could avoid his own death,” Podboy said, asked by Kubanis about the matter. “You might say that's nonsensical, but again, that's what you've got with a schizophrenic; it doesn't make sense.”

Podboy also testified that he didn't think Norbury could care for himself or his children. Knowing Eyster intended to read for the jury transcripts of testimony given during Norbury's child custody hearing, Kubanis asked Podboy what he would think of previous testimony to the contrary. “His self-import does not impress me in that regard,” Podboy said. Near the end of his direct examination, Kubanis asked Podboy for his opinion on Norbury's state of mind regarding the legal definition of insanity. “I feel he could not appreciate the nature and quality of his acts,” Podboy answered.

Eyster began his cross-examination by citing one of the Ten Commandments. “Thou shall not kill,” Eyster said, and asked Podboy about Norbury's Christian upbringing. “Did anyone tell you he wasn't schooled about that?” Eyster said. “No,” Podboy answered.

Questioned about methods he had testified could be used to diagnose the physical component of schizophrenia, Podboy said no MRI or isotope test had been done on Norbury. Eyster ran down a list of questions on a questionnaire of Podboy's design that the psychologist had asked Norbury, asking Podboy in each case if he had any reason to believe Norbury's answer wasn't true. Podboy confirmed that Norbury had told him on that questionnaire that he wasn't paranoid and had no violent fantasies, among other things, and that he'd been hospitalized for two hours in 2010 when a nail had gone through his foot.

Eyster also asked Podboy to confirm that he had documented no blackouts during his first interview with Norbury. At one point, Podboy said he had been on the stand for three hours without his notes, and that Eyster was “ambushing” him, as he'd been told not to bring his materials concerning Norbury to the stand.

Judge John Behnke, who has refereed numerous interruptions by both attorneys and some witnesses during the trial, later clarified that Podboy could ask to look at his materials to refresh his memory.

Eyster said family members had testified that Norbury had experienced “crying or wailing episodes,” a symptom Podboy had said supported his schizophrenia diagnosis.

During his opening statements for the insanity phase, Eyster told the jury Tuesday that Mendocino County Jail staff would testify Norbury had not needed medication or counseling. “Has (Norbury) had any crying or wailing bouts in the Mendocino County Jail (since his January arrest)?” Eyster asked. Podboy said he didn't know. Eyster asked him if he knew two members of the jail staff by name and was familiar with the process jail staff used to check on Norbury. “What kind of question is this?” Podboy said. He explained that he checks with jail staffs in the counties in which he testifies for criminal cases, and that he knew how the process worked in Sonoma County, but not for Mendocino County. “It doesn't have a very good track record, are you aware of that, Mr. Eyster?” Podboy said. Eyster asked Podboy about another test that used true/false questions, saying there was an F by the statement, “There's something wrong with my mind,” and clarified that Podboy had written that letter. Podboy explained that he had given the tests at different times and wasn't sure of the dates. Behnke said at the end of the day that clarity would be needed on the dates when Podboy resumes the stand today.

Billy M. Norbury's father testified to his son's strange behavior and the cross-examination of a defense psychologist went before the jury last Thursday in the ongoing sanity phase of Norbury's murder trial.

District Attorney David Eyster, who is prosecuting the case, continued his cross-examination Thursday morning. The first thing he did was confirm that Podboy had reviewed his notes but still couldn't answer lingering questions from the previous day regarding one test he had used to evaluate Norbury. Eyster also confirmed, via question and answer, that Podboy wasn't a medical doctor. Podboy had also testified that Norbury suffered from delusions and auditory hallucinations, meaning he heard voices telling him to “do bad things.”

Eyster asked Podboy about a mental health clinician he had called earlier in the trial who testified he had observed “no visual or auditory hallucinations” when he had briefly interviewed Norbury to screen him for alcohol and mental health problems for a custody hearing held 19 days before the shooting. Podboy said he didn't remember that witness, or his report from Norbury's divorce file, and had, in part, relied on reports from Norbury's family and friends in his diagnosis, including two friends of the family who were sitting in the courtroom gallery and had watched most of the trial. “I interviewed so many people who were telling me the same thing,” Podboy said.

One of the tests Podboy used to diagnose Norbury included a question about whether he had considered “doing something harmful or shocking.” Podboy testified that because Norbury had at first answered that he had and then changed his mind, the psychologist believed he was a suicide risk.

When Eyster asked if he had reported that concern to the Mendocino County Jail staff, Podboy said he hadn't. Eyster also confirmed in his cross-examination of Podboy that the diagnostic manual he had used in the case defined mental disorders that “may not be wholly relevant to legal judgments.” Insanity is a legal term under state law meaning that because of a mental defect or disorder, the defendant didn't understand the nature or quality of the act, or was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.

Podboy also testified that the mental disorder he diagnosed in Norbury was characterized in one standard as a schizoid personality disorder, and that it was intermittent. Family members had reported Norbury had made a change for the better when they testified at the custody hearing in January, and Podboy said he hadn't heard of those improvements from the family members he had interviewed.

Eyster, having confirmed that another test Podboy used had said nothing about schizophrenia, asked Podboy if he had gotten “the big clues” about schizophrenia from Norbury's mother and grandmother. Podboy acknowledged he'd been impressed with the “font of knowledge” the women had on the disorder. Eyster asked if it was normal for a person to apologize for bad behavior, giving three examples of Norbury's behavior from earlier testimony in the case. Podboy said it was “normal behavior” to apologize.

Podboy said he believed Norbury has a “mental blockage” leading up to the event, and that he still has it. Eyster asked if it was unusual, given such a blockage, for Norbury to be surprised that police had produced a warrant to search his home so quickly after the shooting, as indicated in a transcript of a Jan. 27 phone call to his grandmother from the county jail. During Kubanis' redirect questioning, Podboy confirmed that Norbury had just been arraigned in court and informed of the charges against him when that phone call was made. “The evidence is overwhelming that the defendant has a history of auditory hallucinations and feared for his life, and that came from a number of reliable sources,” Podboy said. “I consider his family and friends to be reliable individuals.”

Norbury's father, Billy Dean Norbury, resumed the witness stand after Podboy stepped down. Kubanis and Eyster took turns guiding him through journal entries that had come to the defense's attention Friday. “Billy wouldn't talk,” Billy D. Norbury said of a Feb. 22, 2011 entry he had written. “He was afraid the feds could listen through cell phones and TVs.” On that occasion, he testified, his son had said the Mexican Mafia was after him and had retrieved a loaded .357 Magnum from a gun safe because he believed he and his children were in danger. On May 6, 2011, the father had written that he had come home to find his son “soaking wet, trying to wash off fire or something.” His son had been angry, he wrote, and hadn't slept for four days.

“Weren't there times when you kind of treated it nonchalantly?” Eyster asked, referring to the defendant's odd behavior. “You would have to be more specific,” the witness said. Eyster then asked the father about a Feb. 23, 2011 entry where he had written that he had awakened at 4am to find his son dressed in sweats, boots, a camo shirt and gloves, and that his son would only make hand signals when he spoke to his son, pointing up at the ceiling and motioning for his father to not talk.

Billy D. Norbury testified that he'd taken his son for a drive at his son's request early that morning, and that, following his son's hand signals, had ended up at the bottom of the Willits Grade. “It really looked cute to me,” Eyster read from the father's journal. “I know it was really serious to Billy, but it's still really comical. It's like we were playing Army” like the two did when the defendant was a child.

“Did you think this was a good moment to call for Mental Health?” Eyster asked. “It did occur to me,” the witness answered.

Eyster proceeded through the journal entry, pointing out another notation where Billy D. Norbury had again described his son as “cute,” and “like a little kid going to the zoo” as they defrosted the vehicle's windshield while getting ready to go. Asked if a point later in the trip, where the younger Norbury was giving his father hand signals to tell him where to go as he drove, if it was “still cute,” the witness chastised Eyster for being “disrespectful.” Behnke told Norbury to answer the question. “I don't remember,” the witness said, clarifying later that he didn't want to drive to the emergency room unless his son agreed to go.

The length and tone of the murder trial of Billy M. Norbury clearly was beginning to wear on at least one juror Thursday afternoon, on the third day into the sanity phase of the trial in Mendocino County Superior Court. The jury of six men and six women on Monday convicted Norbury, 34, of using a 30-30 Winchester rifle to shoot and kill his Redwood Valley neighbor, Jamal Andrews, 30, on the night of Jan. 24. The jury on Tuesday began hearing evidence from Norbury's Ukiah defense attorney, Al Kubanis, who is trying to convince the jury it was more likely than not that Norbury was legally insane when he shot Andrews.

Judge John Behnke told the attorneys after the jury left for its lunch break Thursday — on the 10th day of the trial so far — that one juror had asked to be excused because his employer would only pay him for 40 hours of jury duty, saying the length of the trial had affected his ability “to sustain (his) family.” The note also said the juror had become “stressed by the tone that the trial had taken,” and that the juror had “found some of the questions offensive,” Behnke told defense attorney Kubanis and District Attorney David Eyster, who is prosecuting the case. Both attorneys have spent time trying to discredit each other's witnesses, and Behnke has refereed numerous interruptions and frustrated outbursts by witnesses and the attorneys during the trial. The judge conferred briefly with Eyster and Kubanis before calling the juror into the courtroom to question him and make a decision about whether to excuse and replace him with one of the three alternates who have been sitting with the jury and hearing the same evidence.

Eyster characterized the juror's concern about pay as “a focus issue,” because his attention could be divided “if he's sitting here worrying about his family.” The second issue, he said, wasn't significant unless it compromised the juror's ability to deliberate fairly.

Behnke called the juror into the courtroom and asked him if the pay issue affected his ability to concentrate, and the juror said it did. Behnke then asked, regarding the “upsetting” tone of the trial, whether the juror felt he could still follow jury instructions and make a fair decision based on the evidence presented in court. “I can try my best,” the juror said, and Behnke did not excuse him from the trial, but instructed the juror to notify him in writing if he ever felt that ability was compromised.

Behnke has spent an average of half an hour every morning of the trial, and sometimes more time throughout the day, without the jury in the room, going over which evidence the attorneys can present to the jury and how it will be presented. On Thursday afternoon, the judge and attorneys estimated the jury would be able to start deliberating Tuesday, Oct. 30 at the latest. That estimate was extended Thursday while the judge and attorneys discussed ways to speed up the presentation of new evidence to the jury, including journal entries about Norbury's behavior penned by his father.

A phone call Billy M. Norbury made to a relative from jail, transcripts from his divorce proceedings and further questioning of a juror who wanted to be excused from Norbury's ongoing murder trial were discussed in court last Friday. Mendocino County Superior Court Judge John Behnke met with District Attorney David Eyster and Norbury's defense attorney, Al Kubanis, without the jury present to discuss how the evidence would be presented.

The jury had already convicted Norbury, 34, of first-degree murder and a special allegation that he used a 30-30 Winchester rifle to shoot and kill his Redwood Valley neighbor, Jamal Andrews, 30, on the night of Jan. 24. Norbury in July changed his not-guilty plea to one of not guilty by reason of insanity (commonly called an NGI plea).

Kubanis has been calling witnesses to the stand since Tuesday in an effort to convince the jury it was more likely than not that Norbury was legally insane when he shot Andrews. Eyster plans to bring before the jury a recording of a phone call where Norbury reportedly tells a family member not to talk to police, and transcripts of a custody hearing where Norbury's family and friends testify that he has made a turn for the better and is a capable parent.

A juror asked to be excused from the trial Thursday for financial reasons and because he found some of the questions asked of witnesses offensive. Behnke did not excuse the juror, but said Friday that he plans to question the juror further when the trial resumes Monday. Kubanis told Behnke he also may call back to the witness stand psychologist Dr. John Podboy, who testified for the defense that he had diagnosed Norbury as a paranoid schizophrenic.

Saying Podboy was “incensed” at the “timbre” of some of Eyster's questions during his cross-examination of the psychologist, Kubanis said he hadn't yet decided whether to question Podboy regarding times when Eyster had employed the psychologist when Eyster was a defense attorney before being elected DA. Eyster had said previously that if that were to happen, he would step down as the prosecutor in this case, have Chief Deputy District Attorney Paul Sequeira take over as prosecutor and take the witness stand to testify regarding those previous occasions. In that event, Eyster had said, his testimony would “not (be) favorable for Dr. Podboy.”

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