The San Miguel man accused of involuntary manslaughter took the stand Wednesday, emotionally describing what his attorney called a “perfect storm” of events that ended with his wife being fatally shot.
John Aaron Norris, 25, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and possession of an illegal semiautomatic weapon.
Defense attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu gave his opening statements in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Wednesday and said the shooting was a “perfect storm” of bad circumstances. He called it an accident but not a crime.
Norris, an active duty U.S. Army soldier who served in Iraq and works at Camp Roberts, testified that he and his wife, 24-year-old Tasha Dawn Norris, were preparing for a date of target shooting, dinner and a movie July 9, 2009.
They dropped off their two small children at day care in the morning. The kids weren’t at home when the shooting incident occurred, Norris testified.
Norris said he had the gun in his living room because a man had walked into his home July 8 and stood there staring at him.
The next day, Tasha Norris told him to take the gun upstairs because a home sprinkler inspector was planning to come by.
Norris said he cleared the weapon of ammunition the night before; he also scrubbed the barrel to rid it of residue in the hours before the shooting and said a magazine that contains the bullets wasn’t in the weapon as he was cleaning it.
As he was preparing to take the gun upstairs, Norris said he was seated on a couch, and his wife was sitting on the arm of a love seat about 6 feet away in the downstairs living room of their San Miguel condo.
Norris testified that he pulled the slide and didn’t notice a bullet inside the chamber; he showed it to his wife, who nodded in agreement after he asked her if the chamber was clear. As he stood and turned in his wife’s direction to walk upstairs, he tripped in a play area for their children, he testified.
Norris previously told investigators and said in a 911 call that in addition to the playpen, he tripped over a dog.
“I was clearing my gun, tripped over the (expletive) dog, it went off,” Norris said in the 911 transcript.
On the stand Wednesday, Norris paused several times and tears streamed down his face as he described the aftermath of the shooting.
He said that once he realized his wife had been shot, he ran to her and saw a “weird look on her face,” which he’d never seen before.
Norris applied pressure to the entry and exit wounds to her chest and back and called for help, urging the sprinkler inspector to assist. A local fire chief helped as well, Norris said.
“Keep breathing, baby, come on, keep breathing,” Norris said repeatedly in his 911 call.
During his cross-examination, prosecutor Matt Kerrigan asked Norris why he didn’t engage the safety switch on the gun, check the magazine or point the gun in a safe position to prevent harming his wife.
Norris said that to check the chamber he had to pull the slide, and the safety can’t be on to do that.
He acknowledged that he should have checked for the magazine, but he said he didn’t even realize that a magazine was in the weapon because he remembered previously removing it. And Norris said he was thinking about bracing himself for a fall, and that’s why the gun ended up being pointed at his wife.
Norris said that he didn’t think the gun was loaded, but Kerrigan also questioned Norris by asking why he had the gun in the living room to protect himself from the intruder if he didn’t think it was loaded.
Norris responded by saying that the gun would be a visual deterrent if the intruder returned, and his wife could have retrieved loaded firearms they had upstairs as a possible plan for their protection.
Norris said he didn’t call police about the intruder because he didn’t believe it would help.
Norris also is accused of possessing an illegally equipped AR 15 semiautomatic rifle (which wasn’t the weapon used in the shooting incident). The AR 15 was allegedly equipped with illegal features that included a flash suppressor.
Norris testified that he bought the weapon in May 2009 in Mississippi, where it’s legal to own that firearm.
Kerrigan asked him if he knew that it was illegal to have the weapon in California, and Norris said he didn’t.
Norris said he bought the weapon while visiting family and returned to California with it, noting guns are cheaper in Mississippi compared with California.
Closing statements begin at 11 a.m. today in Judge Michael Duffy’s courtroom.