Just Under the Wire
Norris has said he is not guilty of any of the charges against him.
‘Someone was improperly manipulating the criminal justice system.’
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
A D V E R T I S E M E N T
An old memory and a flubbed e-mail helped produce a new indictment against Wirt Norris.
By DAN MALONE
Last week’s indictment of Wirt Norris on charges of attempted child molestation seemingly came out of nowhere. In reality, the impetus for new charges against the prominent retired realtor came eight months ago with a hunch, an e-mail, and a snafu.
The hunch came from a family friend of Norris’ latest accuser, someone who remembered what seemed to be a strange relationship the former diving coach had with a young boy in the mid-1980s.
The friend sent an e-mail about a “highly possible victim’’ to the operator of www.wirtnorris.com, a web site dedicated to the case. “I thought this relationship was odd,’’ the e-mail said. “I remember questioning why a guy as old as Wirt wanted to spend time with kids [the boy’s] age.’’
Despite the friend’s desire to keep the e-mail private, the web site operator briefly posted the accuser’s name on a message board. When the friend complained, the posting was deleted. The milk was already out of the bottle, however: Attorneys trying to make Norris answer the charges against him in civil and criminal court got wind of the name. Investigators were dispatched to interview the man at his home, a subpoena was issued, and last Friday a Tarrant County grand jury returned an indictment accusing Norris of one attempted aggravated sexual assault of a child and two attempted indecencies with a child by sexual contact.
The series of events is made even more unlikely by its timing. The statute of limitations for pressing criminal charges in such cases gives victims until their 28th birthday to come forward. Norris’ latest accuser, a military officer stationed in Florida, is due to turn 28 within the next few weeks.
Norris, a 76-year-old former Olympic diving coach, did not return a telephone call from Fort Worth Weekly about the latest charge, but has denied previous molestation allegations. His criminal defense attorney, Mike Ware, said the newest charges are too old and weak to be taken seriously.
“The allegations in the new indictment are for ‘attempted’ sexual assault and ‘attempted’ fondling alleged to have occurred 17 years ago,’’ Ware said. “You would never see a contrived indictment like that unless someone was improperly manipulating the criminal justice system simply to ‘get’ Mr. Norris.’’
Last week’s indictment accuses Norris of three incidents with an 11-year-old boy in the fall of 1987 when Norris was in his late 50s. The indictment charges that Norris viewed pornography and exposed himself to the boy while on the boy’s bed, and that Norris then attempted to move his mouth, a vibrator, or his hand toward the boy’s genitals. The indictment says Norris’ actions “amounted to more than mere preparation that tended but failed’’ to culminate with an actual assault or act of indecency.’’
Norris was first indicted last year on charges that he molested Will Hallman, now 21, at his home on Eagle Mountain Lake in the mid-1990s when Will was 12 years old. The identity of sex crime victims usually remains confidential, but Will’s family took the unusual step of going public with the case.
Since Norris was indicted in that case, about 10 other men, many now in middle age, have come forward with similar accusations against a man they once trusted and looked up to. But their claims of abuse fell outside the statute of limitations and could not be prosecuted.
The men who have come forward accuse Norris of preying on several generations of Fort Worth boys, some from the city’s most affluent and socially prominent families. His activities were the subject of rumors for years but did not become a matter of public knowledge until 2003, when the first story was published on www.fwweekly.com.
Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham said Norris’ latest accuser told a now-familiar story about how Norris came to win, then betray, his trust. “His parents knew Wirt and he was interested in diving and Wirt was his diving coach,’’ Lapham said. The prosecutor said that, in the new indictment, the attempted assault charge carries a maximum penalty, on conviction, of 20 years in prison and the attempted indecency charges carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.
It was earlier press coverage of the Norris case — and the related web site — that first caught the attention of the family friend whose e-mail started the ball rolling on the most recent charges. The friend’s e-mail said the boy’s family was friends with Norris and had a lake house on Eagle Mountain Lake, as did Norris. The boy, the friend said, talked about “what a cool guy he [Norris] was’’ and that Norris let him “drink, see pornography, and drive his car.’’
“Wirt allowed him to do all the things that his parents would not allow. He made his membership in the [Fort Worth Boat Club] available to [the boy] so that he could charge everything back to Wirt and would allow him to take his boat out. Things that would make [the boy] want to come back,’’ the e-mail said.
The friend said that the boy never “gave me a clue that there was some kind of ‘relationship’ going on,” but added that it was doubtful the boy would reveal “anything so terrible to me.’’
Tim Kaastad operates the Norris web site. His brother, Rolf, was the first of Norris’ accusers to go public. Like many others, however, Rolf’s tale of abuse at Norris’ hands fell outside the statute of limitations.
Tim Kaastad said Norris would never have been indicted on a second round of accusations if the boy’s friend had not contacted him. The friend, he said, “is the real hero.’’
Attorneys pursuing Norris eventually contacted the friend. Bill Kirkman, who is representing Will Hallman in a civil lawsuit against Norris, sent an investigator to Florida to interview the man, as did the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
It’s not clear what impact the latest accusations will have on the earlier criminal case against Norris or on the pending civil lawsuit filed by Hallman’s family. Some of Norris’ accusers outside the statute of limitations have worried about the toll the case might take on Will Hallman. Will, according to the lawsuit, is still struggling to reclaim a life that he says was nearly destroyed by a man he and his family once trusted.
“Will’s had to suffer the burden [of being] the only person who could sit in the courtroom and offer himself up as a victim,’’ said Tim Kaastad. Now, Kaastad said, Will’s no longer alone.
Prosecutors have said they will try to persuade a judge to let them put on testimony during Will’s trial from Norris’ accusers who fall outside the statute of limitations, but that decision is still weeks if not months away. That a second accuser within the statute of limitations has surfaced means Will might not be the only person to point a finger at Norris in the courtroom.
“Emotionally, it’s important, because we’ve got somebody else who’s actually come out and has said what we’ve been saying for the last two years,’’ said Kirkman, the Hallman’s civil attorney. “And it means something because it’s within the statute of limitations.’’ l
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