Mental illness delays sentencing
Schenectady man facing up to 5 years after lunging at police with knife
SCHENECTADY After waiting for more than 13 months in jail and recovering from police-inflicted gunshot wounds, Elvis Norwood just wanted to get his sentence, but his attorney, the judge and every other person involved in the case still couldn’t find a fair punishment Wednesday.
Norwood, 22, is facing a sentence of as much as 5 years in prison for lunging at police with a knife. He was suffering from schizophrenia, had stopped taking his medication and had gone to Ellis Hospital twice seeking treatment for suicidal thoughts in the days leading up to the incident in which he was shot. Police said they believe he wanted officers to kill him.
Norwood could also be punished with as little as time served, or any amount between. He had hoped to hear his sentence Wednesday, his attorney, Sven Paul, said.
“He just wants this done,” Paul said.
But the prosecutor, defense and judge met for more than 20 minutes and could not come to a decision on the appropriate punishment for a man who may not have known what he was doing and had no criminal record prior to the incident. So they adjourned his sentencing and told him they would try again Jan. 18.
“There’s some times the court is presented with cases that are more involved and it’s just more difficult to come to a fair resolution,” Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago said.
Norwood, who did not speak above a whisper during his brief appearance, had pleaded guilty to menacing a police officer, a felony.
The incident happened Oct. 8, 2011, when Norwood walked up to The Daily Gazette office on Maxon Road Extension and asked the security guard to let him in for a drink of water. Once inside, he wandered through the building, unresponsive except to say “yes” when asked if he needed help.
Police were called, and as two officers approached him, he lunged at them with a knife. They shot him three times.
He has fully recovered from the injuries, but the case quickly became complicated when medical staff realized he had schizophrenia.
After his arrest, he was given medication. Now, mental health examiner Robert Corliss said, Norwood is doing well.
“In an ideal world, there should be a way for him to get mental health treatment now and not face a felony charge,” Corliss said after the court hearing. “He’s been doing very well in the jail. On good medication, he’s done pretty well.”
But Norwood needs “good counseling” to ensure he understands why he must stay on the medication, no matter what, Corliss said. He can’t get that counseling in jail or prison.
Corliss laughed at the idea that inmates could get counseling.
“Of course not,” he said. “There’s a lot of things wrong with the system.”
He said Norwood preferred a 5-year sentence in prison over an indeterminate sentence in a mental hospital.
“This gives him finality, whereas in the hospital system, the uncertainty … It’s ‘How do I get out? What do I have to do?’ It’s very hard to get out of that system. A lot of clients don’t want to face that uncertainty,” Corliss said.
Norwood’s aunt and mother were present for the hearing. Afterward, his aunt, Juanita Norwood, said she felt the entire situation was poorly handled.
“It was unfair for him to be shot,” she said. “He had a knife, but where was the Taser? Even being lunged at ... Each and every officer should have a Taser.”
Police had called for backup officers to bring a Taser, but Norwood lunged at them before those other officers arrived.