From the witness stand, Belen Perdon blew a pair of kisses to her adopted son as she prepared to explain why the prison system should show him, a convicted killer, a measure of mercy.
At 24 years old, Norman Perdon had stabbed his former roommate, Allen Estes, to death on the streets of Long Beach. Norman’s girlfriend had been saying Estes groped her and put his hand down her pants. He’d also punched her in the past, so she and Norman bought knives to protect themselves, prosecutors alleged at Norman’s trial in 2017.
When Norman and his girlfriend came across Estes sleeping on the street, an argument started, and Norman kicked him in the head and stabbed him three times, trial records show. It was self-defense, according to Norman, who testified he thought Estes had reached into his pocket for a knife, but after hearing evidence that Norman had talked about wanting to “get rid” of Estes, a jury decided otherwise, convicting Norman of first-degree murder.
Now 30, Norman sat in front of Belen in jailhouse blues, shaggy unwashed hair and handcuffs as she prepared to testify in Long Beach Superior Court.
It was too late to change Norman’s 25-to-life prison sentence or rebut prosecutors’ evidence, but Belen was there to tell a different story, parts of which she’d already explained at trial. Now, though, she hoped to drive home her point about a system she says failed her son since birth.
In testimony that will be stored for a parole board to consider some time far in the future, Belen recalled Norman as a toddler who wore a helmet the first time they met to keep him from banging his head on the ground in unprovoked fits.
Norman was a lovable boy, she said, but before she and her husband took him in at about 4 years old, he’d suffered unimaginable trauma.
As an infant, Norman had cycled through abusive foster care homes in Los Angeles County, Belen told the judge. A social worker once estimated he’d been placed with caregivers 18 to 20 times. Between the ages of 2 and 3, one of them submerged Norman’s hand in boiling water as a punishment. After the injury was neglected for a year, his hand became like a claw, his fingers fused together.
When Belen and her husband became Norman’s foster parents around a year later, “he was like a little animal hiding in the corner,” she testified Thursday.
He sat there playing with his own feces, she said. With no apparent verbal or social skills, he seemed unable to trust anyone—afraid to fall asleep or even eat.
Belen and her husband, Albert Perdon, decided to adopt Norman along with his two sisters and soon got him surgery to repair his scarred hand. At the time, according to Albert, a relative said they were crazy—why would they want these damaged children?
“I said, why not?” according to Albert, a successful civil engineer and consultant, who said he felt a duty to pass on some of the advantages he’d received.
As he grew, there was a parade of mental health professionals in Norman’s life who diagnosed him with ADHD and schizophrenia, Belen said. “They kept testing different [drug] cocktails on him in order for him to function and be under control.”
Norman was able to graduate high school through a specialized program in Texas, far away from their Cerritos home, according to Belen, but he still struggled mightily. She outlined suicide attempts, involuntary mental health holds and bullying that seemed to intensify as he got older.
Children were ruthless to Norman, according to his sister Vanessa, who also spoke in court Thursday. “The first thing kids would always say is he’s weird, and I would be the one to defend him.”
She began to cry when she described discovering as a child that Norman had been cutting himself.
When the prosecutor in the courtroom asked if Vanessa had ever seen Norman be violent beyond the self-harm, she said no, other than some scuffling between siblings.
“So, you weren’t afraid of him?”
“No, never,” she said.
Norman, though, was taught to defend the people he loves, according to his parents.
After high school, Norman began living at managed facilities near their Cerritos home where staff could handle tracking his medication while his parents worked, according to Belen. He was living at one such facility in Long Beach when he was told Estes had been sexually assaulting his girlfriend.
After the killing, Perdon didn’t seem intent on hiding what he’d done, telling a neighbor he’d stabbed Estes to death, according to evidence presented at trial.
Vanessa, the sister, said Norman always had trouble understanding the consequences of his actions. He also struggled to retain information, she said, often asking the same question a half-hour after he got an answer—something she blames on his medication.
Belen and Vanessa’s testimony Thursday won’t have any immediate effect on Norman’s case, and it may never make a difference. It was documented and forwarded to the state prison system for the parole board to consider, a decade or more from now. Hearings like this are often held years in advance in case someone involved dies or can’t recall what happened when the defendant finally comes up for parole consideration.
In the meantime, Albert said he hopes to ask the governor to consider a pardon or commutation in Norman’s case, but he knows that’s a longshot. Nevertheless, he feels like he must try.
“We didn’t write him off when we adopted him and knew the problems, and we refuse to write him off now,” Belen said.
As Norman left the courtroom Thursday, headed back to lockup, the sheriff’s deputy leading him away did something out of the ordinary for the normally gruff and businesslike atmosphere: He spun Norman around to face his family, telling him to wave goodbye.
“He could see Norman is ill,” Belen said. “I was very grateful that the bailiff did that.”