Finishing up the sanity phase of the murder trial for Billy Norbury, psychiatrist Dr. Donald Apostle told the court last Tuesday that while Norbury may have been mentally ill, he didn't meet the legal definition of insanity the night he shot Jamal Andrews.
The jury last week convicted Norbury, 34, of first-degree murder and a special allegation that he used a 30-30 Winchester rifle to shoot and kill Andrews, 30, his Redwood Valley neighbor, on the night of Jan. 24.
“I felt he was sane on the night of January 24, 2012,” Apostle said, asked for his conclusions after having talked to Norbury for about two hours and having read thick binders of police, jail and investigative reports, including statements from Norbury's family members. “Insane is not an adjective, and it's not a diagnosis,” he said, explaining his reasoning. “It's a legal concept.”
Apostle was called to the witness stand by Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, who is prosecuting the case. Norbury in July changed his not-guilty plea 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 to the jury that it was more likely than not that Norbury was legally insane when he shot Andrews. 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.
“I think he did know the nature and quality of what he did, and he did know the wrongfulness of his actions,” Apostle said on the witness stand Tuesday.
Norbury faces 50 years to life in prison for the killing. If he is found not guilty by reason of insanity, Norbury could instead serve his sentence at a mental health facility, where, Eyster has noted, he could at some point qualify for an outpatient program and live in the community.
Apostle described Norbury's mental disorder as a “paranoid, persecutory delusionary system,” aggravated by “severe substance abuse” that in turn led to insomnia that fed into hallucinations and possibly schizophrenia. Even so, Apostle said again, “That's not insanity … A diagnosis itself is not equal to insanity.”
Previous testimony and video footage showing Norbury's whereabouts in the five hours before the shooting indicate he had about nine alcoholic drinks, and a blood-alcohol level that Apostle estimated could have been as high as 0.18%. “The alcohol probably tipped him over the edge,” Apostle said, adding later during Kubanis' cross-examination that the drinks likely “loosened his inhibitions” enough to do the act. “He was paranoid to begin with, but that does not fit the legal definition of insanity.”
Pressed by Kubanis about another expert's opinion that Norbury could have had a blood-alcohol level as high as 0.22% the night of the shooting, Apostle described his experience in the US Navy with a four-star general who had a 0.25 blood-alcohol level but was “totally sober” because of his high tolerance. Norbury had been drinking since he was a teenager, according to prior testimony. Apostle said Norbury “was able to drive a truck, he was able to aim a gun, he was able to make an escape” the night of the killing. Apostle said he found Norbury “extremely willful, to the degree that he's stonewalling.” Norbury denied “from the second he was apprehended” that he shot Andrews, Apostle said, and “people might think he had a blackout (but) I don't think he did.” Apostle also described Norbury in general terms as “self-centered” and “adamant in terms of his ability to out-wit people.” Asked about testimony from Norbury's father that his son at one point hadn't slept in four days, Apostle said nicotine and alcohol contribute to insomnia, and test subjects in a sleep laboratory had started to hallucinate after going without sleep for four days. He described Norbury's substance abuse and paranoia, combined with the added stress of losing his family in a divorce and moving twice, as “the perfect storm.”
During cross-examination, Kubanis asked Apostle about testimony from Norbury's father that his son had said on one sleepless night, “I am chosen; God gives signs of the end times.” “If someone thinks they are the chosen one, isn't that the most monumental of delusions?” Kubanis asked.
“Not necessarily,” Apostle answered. “Some people think they have cancer.” He described the statement as a “grandiose delusion” in the category of someone thinking he or she is the smartest person in the world, and others like it. Asked for his level of certainty about his conclusion, Apostle said, “It appears to me beyond a reasonable doubt that (Norbury) was sane.” The jury retired to decide the sanity matter on Wednesday after Eyster and Kubanis made their closing arguments.
After less than two hours of deliberation last Wednesday, a jury decided Billy Norbury was legally sane when he shot and killed his Redwood Valley neighbor, Jamal Andrews.
The same 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 Andrews, 30, on the night of Jan. 24. Because Norbury in July changed his not-guilty plea to one of not guilty by reason of insanity (commonly called an NGI plea), his Ukiah defense attorney, Al Kubanis, was tasked with convincing the jury that it was more likely than not that Norbury was legally insane when he shot Andrews.
But 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. The jury had stacks of evidence to consider, including recorded phone conversations, surveillance video from the five hours before the shooting and testimony from nearly 40 witnesses from throughout the three-week trial, including the initial phase that concerned only the question of Norbury's guilt.
During the sanity phase of the trial, a psychologist testified for the defense that he had diagnosed Norbury with paranoid schizophrenia, and a psychiatrist testified for the prosecution that Norbury had a paranoid, persecutory delusionary disorder that didn't rise to the level of legal insanity.
Norbury faces 50 years to life in prison for the killing. Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster said previously that if Norbury had been found not guilty by reason of insanity, he could have instead served his sentence at a mental health facility, where he could at some point have qualified for an outpatient program and lived in the community. A sentencing hearing is scheduled Nov. 30.
Jamal Andrews' mother said she was relieved at the verdict following the gasps and crying that were heard from among Andrews' friends and family in the courtroom gallery when the court clerk read the verdict rejecting the insanity defense.
“I'm really relieved at the verdict because I think Billy is a dangerous person,” said Andrews' mother, Lucy Andrews, outside the courtroom, adding that she had been worried for the safety of her son's girlfriend, Miranda Mills, and the couple's baby, Kaiden.
“But I feel so sorry for Billy's family;” she said. “It's been very difficult for them, and they seem like such a close, loving family. I really hope Billy gets help. I wish he had gotten help a long time ago. Our mental health system is broken.”
The group of about 20 people gathered to support Jamal Andrews' family exchanged hugs and wiped tears outside the courtroom, and later heard from District Attorney David Eyster, who prosecuted the case, that the defense could still file an appeal.
Courtesy, The Ukiah Daily Journal