FARGO, N.D. — A North Dakota orthopedic surgeon convicted of sexually assaulting a woman he drugged with an anesthetic faces up to five years in prison when sentenced.
Dr. Jon Norberg, of Fargo, entered Alford pleas Tuesday to charges of felony reckless endangerment and misdemeanor sexual assault. An Alford plea means he did not admit wrongdoing but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him.
Norberg was accused of having sex with a woman in his home after he gave her propofol more than 30 times over 18 months. The woman Norberg was accused of assaulting was not his patient. The Associated Press does not identify victims of sexual assault.
Norberg told reporters after Tuesday’s hearing he was trying to help the victim, who is chronically ill, but probably went too far by giving her a medication that gained notoriety during the trial against the doctor who treated pop star Michael Jackson. Jackson’s doctor,Conrad Murray, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and chastised by the judge for providing the sedative.
“It’s a good drug, it’s a safe drug,” Norberg said. “But I didn’t think that there would be any way to convince a jury of that and therefore I was better off to take a plea than to risk the knee-jerk response of jurors that this is a bad drug.”
The reckless endangerment charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Norberg originally was charged in August with gross sexual imposition, a felony that carries a penalty of life in prison.
“It was my advice to Jon to not put his freedom at risk by going forward with the gross sexual imposition, in the event that there’s always a risk a jury can accept that,” defense attorney John Goff said Tuesday outside the courtroom. He added, “We wanted to get this whole thing cleared up so Jon can try to move on with his life, parent his children, support his children and try to get back to where he can practice medicine again.”
An Alford plea is treated like a guilty plea for sentencing, which has not been scheduled. Prosecutors say a presentence investigation could take up to three months.
Cass County prosecutor Gary Euren said after Tuesday’s hearing that the state’s proposed sentence could include time behind bars.
“There are a lot of factors going on with this case, aside from the criminal matter,” Euren said. “We’re taking everything into account and trying to do the best job we can for the society as a whole and for the victim in this case, and believe this was the best resolution at this point in time.”
Last week, an administrative law judge recommended that Norberg’s medical license be suspended indefinitely based on the allegations. Norberg has been on voluntary leave from his job at Sanford Health in Fargo.