Crime & Courts

He shot his wife of 33 years in a suicide pact. He’ll never go to prison for it.

Jim and Charlene Norris were married 33 years before he shot and killed her in June 2016 as part of an apparent suicide pact. On Thursday, murder charges were dropped against Jim Norris.
Jim and Charlene Norris were married 33 years before he shot and killed her in June 2016 as part of an apparent suicide pact. On Thursday, murder charges were dropped against Jim Norris.

The hearing was quick, the language obscure, and the discussion between the judge and attorneys muffled and legalistic. Outside the courtroom, David Plank tried to explain to his companion what had just taken place.

“They dismissed it,” he told Jim Norris on Thursday. “You’re done. You don’t have to come back here again.”

“I’m done?” Norris repeated, disbelieving. Then his legs buckled. He gazed upward before reaching for Plank’s hand.

“I can start a new life,” the 84-year-old said.

Moments before, Superior Court Judge Bob Bell dismissed the first-degree murder case against Norris, who was indicted after the June 2016 fatal shooting of Charlene Norris, his wife of 33 years.

Bell’s grounds: Norris suffers from advanced dementia, and two medical experts say he is incapable of ever standing trial.

Jim Norris, shown after his 2016 arrest, had his murder charges dropped Thursday after medical experts ruled that his dementia left him incapable of standing trial for the fatal shooting death of his wife. Jim and Charlene Norris apparently had a suicide pact when he killed her in the bedroom of the couple’s home. Mecklenburg jail

Charlene Norris, who also had dementia and a series of chronic physical ailments, had been shot in the chest while she lay in her bed. A handgun was found beside her. Police also retrieved two suicide notes from the Norris home in east Charlotte, indicating that the couple had agreed to a suicide pact.

For months, Charlene Norris, 79, had been telling friends and family that she wanted to die. After first trying to smother his wife with a pillow, Jim Norris walked back into the bedroom with the couple’s .22-caliber pistol. He did not turn the gun on himself.

“He just wasn’t ready to go,” Plank, Charlene Norris’ grandson, told the Observer last year.

Norris first told police that Charlene had shot herself.

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Plank and Norris arrived at the courthouse about a half an hour before the courtroom door opened.

He wore a pair of “And1” red-and-black basketball shorts, flip-up sunglasses and a light-purple hooded sweatshirt. Before his case was called, his attorney, Michael Greene, met with Bell and Assistant District Attorney Kim Gardner. After Norris joined Greene at the front of the courtroom, Gardner spoke first.

A May report by the state’s own expert had found Norris “not capable of proceeding ... and not likely to recover,” she said. Gardner then asked that the charges be dismissed. Bell made it so.

Jim and Charlene XMAS.jpeg
Jim Norris, at left, and Charlene Norris, front and far right, celebrate Christmas with family about a year before her death. In June 2016, Jim shot Charlene in the couple’s bedroom as part of a suicide pact. The first-degree murder charge filed against him was dropped Thursday after medical experts ruled that Jim Norris’ advanced dementia left him incapable of standing trial. Observer file

In the corridor, after Plank explained what had just happened, Norris put his hands on Plank’s shoulders and shook Greene’s hand.

Greene, who had argued throughout the case that any jail time for his client was a veritable death sentence, said he was satisfied with the outcome.

“I’m very happy that he gets to live out the final days of his life without this on his shoulders,” he said.

As Plank began to direct Norris toward the elevators and the return trip to the assisted-care facility where Norris lives, Plank was asked what his grandmother would have thought about what had just taken place.

“She would be happy, definitely,” Plank said. “This is what she wanted.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095; @MikeGordonOBS