A suspected child molester who has lived in Quepos since 2006 is finally in custody in the United States. The case has religious dimensions because the man, Michael J. Norris, 67, was an elder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation where the long-running molestation is alleged to have taken place.
A warrant for Norris was issued in Santa Barbara, California, in December. The Sheriff’s Office there posted his photo and a request for information. But persons associated with the Carpinteria, California, congregation knew exactly where the man was. They notified sheriff’s detectives and employees at the U.S. Embassy here.
There are conflicting reports on where Norris was detained. One version is that he was arrested when he got off a plane at Los Angeles International Airport. A second version is that he was detained here at a Costa Rican airport and escorted to Los Angeles by law officers where the official arrest took place.
In any event, he is in the Santa Barbara county jail in lieu of $250,000 bail. The allegations include multiple counts of molesting a minor under the age of 14. There also is an allegation of distributing pornography to a minor. The investigation has been going on for a year or more.
Although living in Costa Rica, Norris returned to the Santa Barbara area several times, including once in July 2011, said a person close to the case. A girl at that time accused Norris of attempting to molest her, the person said. Some months later, the girl made allegations of a long-running series of molestations dating back to 2002. That is when law officers became involved.
Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Detective Ted Toedte praised the help from the U.S. government. “The State Department reached out to me regarding this case and from day one they were extremely helpful and remained in constant contact with me,” he said. “I was just in the process of writing their office to extend our gratitude to them for all their efforts.” He is with the fugitive unit.
At the embassy here, a spokesman said that the delay between the time officials knew the location of Norris and his detention was due to negotiations.
“I would disagree with your characterization that it took so long,” said the embassy spokesman. “Our regional security office is working on a significant caseload of fugitive files at any given time. Considering that he was working through his attorney to return to the United States, it is clear that this was a case brought to a timely and successful conclusion. I believe the detective in Santa Barbara would agree.”
Norris lived on a farm about 10 minutes outside of Quepos on the central Pacific coast. He was reported to have constructed a home there.
There also were conflicting statements as to whether Norris had a lawyer negotiate his surrender. That was the original reason officials here did not mount an effort to arrest him. A second version is that negotiations failed and that U.S. law officers encountered Norris at the airport and caused him to return to California.
The Norris case is unusual because he was the topic of many postings on the Internet. Some of the postings included his location. In addition, there was criticism of church leaders. There also were suggestions that there was more than one young victim. Norris was believed to have been associated with the Carpinteria congregation for decades before he moved to Costa Rica.
A woman closely associated with the case said by email that “We, too, are fed up with molesters being protected by religious groups. We are proceeding with civil litigation against Watchtower (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and family members that harbored . . . ” Norris.
The woman said that although may persons associate with the religious congregation knew of the molestation allegations in July 2011, none made a police report