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Norvell to serve 24-year sentence at state mental health facility for 2016 assault

| May 8, 2020 8:22 AM

Lincoln County District Judge Matthew Cuffe sentenced a man who admitted to running down a cyclist unprovoked in 2016 to 24 years at a state mental health facility on May 4.

Brian Norvell, 32, had pleaded guilty to a felony aggravated assault charge and one count of tampering with evidence stemming from the attack as part of a deal. Prosecutors dropped charges of criminal mischief and driving with a suspended license as well as a second count of aggravated assault.

“This is a difficult and complicated case,” Cuffe said. “The defendant has a serious mental health diagnosis.”

During the sentencing hearing, prosecutors and defense attorney Alisha Backus agreed that Norvell did not understand his culpability in injuring others.

“The state agrees with the evaluation that he does not relate to the intent of violence,” said Deputy County Attorney Jeffrey Zwang.

Authorities arrested Norvell shortly after responding to a hit-and-run accident involving a cyclist on state Highway 37 near Rexford Bench Campground on May 9, 2016. According to law enforcement affidavits, Norvell allegedly returned to the scene and approached U.S. Border Patrol Agent Luis Garando, who was helping direct traffic.

“I am the one that nailed him,” Norvell allegedly told Garando. He also allegedly tried to pass along his regards to the cyclist’s relatives.

Court documents said Norvell also handed over a wallet with another individual’s driver’s license in it, but he would not discuss the incident further. When he tried leaving the scene, Garando placed him in his pickup until Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrived.

Deputy Anthony Jenson later read Norvell his Miranda warning before interviewing a witness, who recalled hearing a loud noise reminiscent of a gunshot. As he headed toward the scene, he heard a vehicle stop and then accelerate south.

Jenson then examined the scene, marking a trail of blood spots leading back to a pool where the cyclist’s body came to a rest after the collision. He also located a mangled road bicycle, court documents said.

Norvell was taken to the Lincoln County Detention Center, but investigators were unable to locate his vehicle for several days.

Driving back after making a visit to the crash site on May 10, Deputy Dale White spotted tire tracks heading off the road and through a ditch not far from the scene. According to court documents, White followed the tracks to a cliff. Looking down, he spotted a vehicle resting against a tree below.

After working his way down, Jenson examined the car, finding the windshield was broken in a manner “consistent with a person hitting the windshield from outside the vehicle,” court documents said.

A search of the vehicle turned up food, soda, a television and paperwork belonging to Norvell, according to court documents.

Authorities subsequently interviewed the witness, who was recovering in Kalispell. He remembered a vehicle pulling over ahead of him and the driving asking what time it was as he biked past.

Then the driver pulled ahead of the victim, turned around and then circled back. The victim recalled the driver staring him down as they passed again, court documents said.

The victim had no memory beyond that, according to court documents.

Presented with a photo lineup on May 17, the victim identified Norvell as the driver. He also confirmed that the wallet Norvell gave law enforcement officials on the evening of the crash belonged to him.

Norvell was sentenced on charges stemming from the incident in 2017 after previously pleading guilty to them, but the Montana Supreme Court tossed the conviction out in 2019. The ruling concluded that Norvell was not brought before a judge before unnecessary delay and the district court should have dismissed the charges.

The state Supreme Court’s ruling allowed prosecutors to file the charges again, which they did in May 2019.

At his most recent sentencing, Norvell was handed over to the state Department of Health and Human Services for 20 years based upon recommendations by professionals who evaluated his mental health. He is to serve a consecutive four-year sentence for the tampering charge.

As part of the sentence, Norvell must also pay $75,300 in restitution.