An elderly Fish Springs man admitted Tuesday to second degree murder in the shooting death of his caretaker, though he still claimed it was an accident.
Melvin Norlund, 81, faces up to life in prison after he admitted to one count of second degree murder in the Nov. 21, 2013, shooting death of Catherine Mary Costanza, 51.
Norlund, who is hard of hearing, had to follow along on a screen as District Judge Tod Young took him through the plea document.
By pleading guilty Norlund avoids the possibility that he will be convicted of first-degree murder with an enhancement for using a deadly weapon, which would double his sentence, meaning it would be at least 20 years before he could be released from prison.
The defense and prosecutors are both recommending 10-25 years in prison. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is 10 years to life in prison.
At one point, after Norlund continued to say the shooting was an accident, Young and Prosecutor Laurie Trotter questioned whether they could accept the plea.
“It was not on purpose,” he said. “I was fighting with her and she grabbed the gun and started jerking it around.”
Norlund’s attorney Kris Brown argued that because Norlund loaded the gun, brought it in the room and threatened Costanza’s dog, he could be charged with coercion, which means the case could rise to the level of reckless disregard required under the statute.
Young asked Norlund if he’d killed Costanza during an argument. Norlund said that he did.
Norlund also confirmed that he was pleading guilty to the second-degree murder charge to avoid the possibility that a jury would find him guilty of a more serious charge with the deadly weapon enhancement.
“I told her I was going to shoot the dog if she didn’t shut up,” he said. “I thought if I threatened her dog she would shut up and it didn’t work.”
Norlund had denied the murder charge, thought he admitted that he loaded the shotgun, brought it into the room and threatened to shoot Costanza’s dog with it.
After the shooting, Norlund walked to a neighbor’s home where he asked them to call the sheriff’s office because his caretaker was dead.
Costanza was remembered as a loving and supportive coach and physical education teacher.
Her family attended the hearing where Norlund entered his guilty plea.
Trotter said that she expected three family members would want to speak at Norlund’s Oct. 14 sentencing.