Jennifer Norton wanted out of her marriage.
It was a wish that would prove fatal.
Now, a Sarpy County judge must decide whether Norton’s husband — who has confessed to her slaying — should face a first- or second-degree murder charge.
Brandon S. Norton, 37, has told authorities that two nights before he killed his wife, she handed him divorce papers. He tore them up, he said.
Then, on June 4, as Jennifer Norton, 32, was getting ready for work, the couple argued again over the divorce, her husband has said.
It was a lengthy argument, Brandon Norton said, and it heated up when he found explicit texts and photos between his wife and another man on her cellphone. The phone held proof of what he suspected — that she was seeing someone else.
Norton had suspected an affair “about a month or a month and half” prior to killing his wife, he told police.
Brandon Norton told police that he went up behind his wife and put his arm around her neck in a chokehold, according to a Bellevue detective.
“They both fell to the floor, and he continued to squeeze until she was no longer breathing,” Detective Jason Cvitanov of the Bellevue Police Department testified at Norton’s preliminary hearing in Sarpy County Court on Tuesday.
After confirming that his wife was dead, Norton gathered the couple’s five children from their home at 1502 Main St. and took them to his parents’ house. He then returned home, put his wife’s body in their Lincoln Navigator and began driving around. He eventually dropped her body into the Missouri River from the U.S. Highway 34 bridge that same night.
On June 5, Norton went to the Sarpy County Jail and told authorities that he had killed his wife the previous evening and dropped her body in the Missouri River. Boaters found Jennifer Norton’s body in the river near Plattsmouth on June 8.
Norton was initially charged with second-degree murder. Phil Kleine, an assistant prosecutor with the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office, said information obtained during the homicide investigation led prosecutors to seek a first-degree murder charge.
“He knew his wife was having an affair prior to the strangulation,” Kleine told Judge Robert Wester. “There is evidence that there was premeditation.”
Christopher Lathrop, an attorney in the Sarpy County Public Defender’s Office, said the death was the result of a sudden quarrel and was more akin to manslaughter than murder.
“First-degree murder is not appropriate,” he said. “Part of the problem with the state’s statute is almost anything can be called first-degree murder.”
Judge Wester took the matter under advisement.