Witness: Norman Funded Painkiller Operation - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Witness: Norman Funded Painkiller Operation

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Michael Anthony Norman was the leader of a drug operation that transported hundreds of prescription painkillers from South Florida pill mills to Bay County, according to opening day testimony in his drug trafficking trial.

Norman, 66, is the Southport homeowner who shot two intruders to death in May 2010 during a home invasion robbery.  Stephen Mark Lang, the mastermind of the botched pre-dawn robbery, was convicted of second degree murder last summer.  During the robbery investigation, authorities found drugs on Norman's property and subsequently charged him in the case.

In opening arguments, defense attorney Rick Albritton said the drugs belonged to Lang, who sometimes rented a room from Norman.  "He chose to trust Mark Lang and that was a mistake," Albritton told the four man, four woman jury.

During Wednesday's opening session, Assistant State Attorney Larry Basford introduced a tape recorded statement Norman made hours after the shooting in which he admitted to helping his friend Lang obtain painkillers from South Florida pill mills.

"He was the young man who convinced me to get involved in all of this pill business," Norman can be heard saying to Jeff Haire, a Bay County Sheriff's Office investigator.  When pressed for details, Norman said he loaned money to Lang and was reimbursed after Lang sold the drugs.

But Christine Panico, a convicted felon and recovering painkiller addict, testified that she made three pill buying trips to South Florida with Norman.  Panico said Norman would rent a car and pay for gas, food, lodging, doctor visits and prescriptions, then split the pills with her.  Panico said she took up to 20 pain pills a day and would buy more pills from Norman when her supply ran out.

Albritton attempted to prevent Panico from testifying and, when Circuit Judge James Fensom denied the motion, Albritton filed a "continuing objection."  Albritton said Panico's testimony was unreliable because of her history of substance abuse and because her story had changed several times in the months since Norman's arrest.

Daniel Nelson, the defendant's roommate, testified that Norman forced him to tamper with evidence minutes after the home invasion, before deputies arrived at the scene.  "[He] asked me to obtain a container from the safe [and] he told me to bury it in the backyard," said Nelson.  "I didn't know what was going on… I was scared for my life… I did what I was asked to do."

Investigators later found pills and marijuana buried on Norman's property.  Both Nelson and Norman were charged with five drug-related offenses; however, the state dropped drug charges against Nelson last week.  He entered a guilty plea in the evidence tampering case.

Basford said he expects to wrap up his case late Thursday morning.  Albritton said it will take 3-4 hours to present Norman's defense.  Stephen Mark Lang, who is serving three life terms for his role in the home invasion, is on the list of potential witnesses.