Crime

‘He snapped,’ expert says of accused deputy killer

Accused deputy killer cries during ex-wife's testimony about their marriage ending

Christopher Keith Calmer, a Monroe County man charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy Michael Norris, erupted into tears Thursday as his ex-wife, Samantha Peterson, testified about the end of their m
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Christopher Keith Calmer, a Monroe County man charged with murder in the 2014 fatal shooting of Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy Michael Norris, erupted into tears Thursday as his ex-wife, Samantha Peterson, testified about the end of their m

Suffering from untreated mental illness, Christopher Keith Calmer “snapped,” a forensic psychiatrist testified Thursday.

In evaluating Calmer, Dr. Julie Dorney talked with him about what happened on Sept. 13, 2014, the day Calmer fatally shot Monroe County sheriff’s deputy Michael Norris and wounded deputy Jeff Wilson. The deputies had gone to Calmer’s parents’ home after Calmer’s uncle called 911 seeking help because Calmer was suicidal.

Dorney said Calmer told her that he saw two dark objects and in her opinion, he “was not thinking clearly” when Norris opened the door to his parents’ Haley Lane home.

“He told me he never intended to hurt anyone,” she testified, noting that she doesn’t think Calmer planned to lure the deputies to the house to shoot at them, as prosecutors have alleged.

Dorney and a series of other medical experts testified Thursday as Calmer’s attorneys began presenting their evidence in a trial that began Monday.

Calmer, 49, faces murder and other charges stemming from the shootout. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Doctors who have treated Calmer and others who consulted on the case testified about Calmer’s history of back and spine issues.

They also talked about the pain drug Tramadol that Calmer took for several years. Dorney and a pharmacology expert testified that it’s their opinion that Calmer was suffering from Tramadol withdrawal on the day of the shooting, a condition that included anxiety, depression, insomnia, confusion and other symptoms.

Dorney testified that Calmer likely has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder since he was molested as a 12-year-old boy.

After the molestation, he had trouble sleeping, was afraid of the dark and began hearing voices saying negative things about himself, she said.

Later, as an adult, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but records of the diagnosis and treatment are not available, Dorney said.

‘He was charming’

Calmer sobbed Thursday morning as his ex-wife testified about how Calmer’s difficulty recovering from surgery and apparent depression caused their marriage to fall apart.

Although multiple pretrial proceedings were marked by Calmer’s outbursts, his complaining of pain and other disruptions, Calmer had remained calm and quiet since the beginning of the trial on Monday.

Aside from moments when Calmer has rested his head on the defense table, he’s appeared alert, sitting up.

Samantha Peterson testified Thursday about how she met Calmer in 1994 through a dating service.

“I liked him. He was charming. We got along,” she said.

While living in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the couple dated for about a year before marrying and moving to Colorado. Living out west, they went sightseeing and lived an active lifestyle, riding bikes and hiking.

Then Calmer began suffering from back pain and underwent surgery. His pain didn’t go away, Peterson testified.

“He just went into a stupor” and stopped enjoying anything, she said. “He said that he couldn’t go out.”

Calmer stopped working and withdrew from the activities the couple had enjoyed.

He also withdrew from his wife, Peterson said.

“He just gave up,” she said. “I had to walk away.”

Calmer wept as Peterson talked about how she went into the military and moved to Texas to ensure a steady paycheck and benefits.

At the time that their marriage ended, Calmer seemed depressed and Peterson felt he was mentally ill, she said.

Monroe County Sheriff John Cary Bittick testified that both Norris and Wilson had training about how to interact with the mentally ill although Norris, who’d been a patrol deputy only for a few months, had not received the same level of training as Wilson.

When encountering a mentally ill person, a deputy is supposed to call them by name in a manner that’s not threatening, Bittick said.

Wilson has testified that one of the deputies called out to Calmer, saying “Chris” just after opening the front door of the house.

Calmer immediately stood up and began shooting, Wilson said.

The sheriff said he knew both deputies, and he thinks they went to the Calmers’ home intending to help him.

“I think Mr. Calmer took away that opportunity,” he said.

Testimony is set to continue Friday.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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