Auburn mother drugged and suffocated toddler, search warrant affidavit says

Leanna Norris is shown into court on Friday, July 5, at the Penobscot Judicial Center  for her arraignment on murder charges in connection with the death of her daughter Loh Grenda.
Leanna Norris is shown into court on Friday, July 5, at the Penobscot Judicial Center for her arraignment on murder charges in connection with the death of her daughter Loh Grenda.
Posted July 12, 2013, at 12:07 p.m.
Last modified July 12, 2013, at 7:42 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — An Auburn woman charged with murder in connection with the death of her child drugged her 2½-year-old daughter, put duct tape on the girl’s face and then suffocated her before attempting suicide, according to a court document released Friday.

Superior Court Justice Ann Murray on Friday unsealed search warrant affidavits in the case against Leanna Norris, 24, of Auburn and formerly of Stetson, who was charged July 3 with murder in the death of her daughter, Loh Melody Grenda. Norris entered a not guilty plea July 5 at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Norris’s defense attorney had sought to keep the affidavits sealed.

Investigators have released few details about the toddler’s death except to say she died in Newport on June 23 and was found early the next morning in a car in Stetson. The search warrant affidavits contain police accounts of interviews with Norris and others during the investigation. The search warrants issued were for Norris’s car and her cellphone.

Leanna Norris drove her daughter to Durham Bridge Road in Newport at about 8:45 p.m. June 23 and gave her “two or three syringes of Benadryl to make her go to sleep,” the affidavit written by Detective Thomas Pickering of the Maine State Police states. Benadryl is an antihistamine that can be used as a sleep aid, according to WebMD.

“Leanna Norris put black Gorilla [duct] tape on Loh Grenda’s mouth and nose; that Leanna Norris put a blanket over Loh Grenda’s face so she would not have to look at Loh’s eyes,” the affidavit states. “Leanna Norris said that she killed Loh Grenda; that Leanna Norris put her hand over Loh Grenda’s face and suffocated her.”

She then removed the duct tape from her daughter’s face, “so it would not look so horrible,” according to the document.

Norris then drove to a cemetery in Stetson “where she took pills and put tape on her face in order to kill herself,” the affidavit states.

The pills were from a bottle of Advil, Norris later told her mother, according to the affidavit.

Norris fell asleep but awoke and vomited and then called her father at about 2:50 a.m. June 24 from the cemetery.

“Leanna told him that she killed her baby and she wanted to die,” the court documents state.

A few minutes later she pulled into her parent’s Pleasant Road driveway in Stetson, and her father found his granddaughter’s body in the front seat bundled in a blanket.

“[He] checked Loh Grenda and felt that she was cold,” Pickering’s affidavit states.

He got his daughter out of the car, and she was “begging for a gun to commit suicide,” the court document states. Norris’s father then called 911.

Pickering wrote in his reports that he got the call to respond at about 4:10 a.m. and arrived at the scene at about 5:25 a.m.

Police found Grenda’s body laying on her side in the front seat and there was a note left on the dashboard, the affidavit states. Police have not released what the note said.

Martha J. Harris of Bangor, Norris’s court appointed attorney, filed the motion to seal the search warrant affidavits on Tuesday. Murray announced her decision to unseal them at a hearing at the Penobscot Judicial Center.

Harris argued that her client could not get a fair trial if the documents were released, but Murray assured her that the jury selected would be fair and impartial.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, who said on Wednesday that investigators conducted two searches on June 24 and June 27, told Murray Friday that the state was not taking a position on the motion to seal the documents.

Benson said only that he understands Harris’ point of view and also recognizes the presumed public right of access, especially for the press.

Murray said Friday morning that the reasons cited by Harris were not strong enough to seal the two search warrant affidavits.

Benson said Friday he could not talk about what police found during the searches.

After the child’s body was discovered, Norris was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center and later to a medical facility in Rockport where she received treatment until her arrest on July 3.

Norris, who went to Central High School in Corinth and graduated in 2007, according to her Facebook page, was secretly indicted by the Penobscot County grand jury in June, so no probable cause affidavit has been filed stating why she was arrested.

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