Medical examiner testifies Auburn woman’s toddler died of asphyxiation

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BANGOR — Dr. Margaret Greenwald, the state’s retired chief medical examiner, testified Tuesday morning that Loh Melody Grenda died of asphyxiation. She also said the toddler’s blood contained a toxic level of the antihistamine Benadryl.

Greenwald took the stand on the second day of the jury-waived murder trial of Leanna Norris, 25, of Auburn at the Penobscot Judicial Center. Norris, formerly of Stetson, is accused of smothering her nearly 2½-year-old daughter on the night of June 23, 2013.

Norris has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

Defense attorney Martha Harris of Bangor said Monday in her opening statement that Norris suffered from severe depression, anxiety disorder and a mood disorder when she smothered her daughter. She said that Norris is not criminally responsible for the child’s death.

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Assistant Attorney General Deb Cashman, who is prosecuting the case, told Superior Court Justice Ann Murray that the evidence would prove Norris acted intentionally and knew right from wrong when she killed the child.

Greenwald’s findings appeared to confirm statements Norris made shortly after the crime to Maine State Police detectives, according to court documents. She said she gave her daughter Benadryl to put her to sleep and placed duct tape over her nose and mouth. The mother then placed a blanket over the child’s head until she stopped breathing.

Norris told police that she then swallowed 200 Advil pills and the rest of the Benadryl in an attempt to end her own life. She awoke about 2:30 a.m., vomited, called her parents at their farm in Stetson, and then drove there.

Steven W. Norris, 50, of Stetson testified late Monday that his daughter called him at 2:47 a.m. June 24, 2013, and said, “‘Daddy, I’ve killed Loh.’” The tape of his 911 call was played Tuesday morning. He could be heard talking with a dispatcher as they waited for police and an ambulance to arrive.

A crying woman could be heard in the background but her words were not audible in the courtroom when the recording was played. Norris said that was his daughter crying and begging to die.

Maine State Police Detective Jay Peary also testified Tuesday morning.

He was responsible for removing the child’s body, which was wrapped in a blanket, from the front seat of the car, and later processed evidence found in the vehicle.

He said that items found in the white Chevy Lumina included: empty bottles of Advil and a Rite Aid version of Benadryl; a roll of duct tape; a journal; a handwritten note dated June 23, 2013; a diaper bag; and “duct tape mask.”

Peary said that he cataloged the items as evidence and sent some to the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory for testing.

Cross-examination of the detective was expected to begin after the lunch recess.

The trial is scheduled to last until Friday. The judge is expected to take the case under advisement and deliver her verdict later in the year.

If convicted of murder, Norris faces between 25 years and life in prison. Norris would be committed to Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta if Murray finds her not guilty by reason of insanity.

She has been held without bail at the Penobscot County Jail since her arrest July 3, 2013, when she was released from a psychiatric ward at a midcoast hospital.

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