Adam W. Norcross
Race: White Gender: Male
Offense: Murder 1st
Sentenced to Death: 10/03/2001
Date of Offense: 11/04/1996
Norcross and co-defendant Ralph E. Swan broke into
the home of and shot to death Kenton resident Kenneth Warren on November
Robber: Wrong man convicted in '96
Fellow death row prisoner says dead
partner, not convict, aided in Kenton home invasion
The News Journal
Febuary 18, 2006
Ralph E. "Randy" Swan was not present the night
Kenneth Warren, a Kenton cattle breeder, was killed in a 1996 home
invasion, a man sentenced to death along with Swan testified Friday.
Adam W. Norcross said a "drug buddy" who he knows
only as "Wayne" was the 2nd of 2 men who blasted their way into Warren's
home and shot him to death as his wife and his 19-month-old son looked
on. The testimony came during a hearing on Swan's motion for a new trial.
Norcross and Swan were sentenced to death in October
2001 -- with the trial judge John E. Babiarz Jr. describing them as "like
jackals lurking at a water hole."
Norcross said Wayne blasted out a glass back door of
Warren's home. Wayne was shot in the upper torso after the 2 men went
into the house and scuffled with Warren, Norcross said.
Norcross said he later granted a request to put his
companion out of his misery.
"There was no way I could get him to the hospital,"
Norcross said of Wayne, who, spitting up blood, reportedly crawled out
of a blood-soaked car and about 10 yards into woods along a back road.
"He said, 'You've got to stop the pain, man.' I
couldn't get him to a hospital, and he was going to die anyway. So I put
a bullet in his head."
Friday's Kent County Superior Court hearing before
Babiarz was prompted by a letter mailed by Norcross to the judge and
lawyers in the case last February. In the letter, Norcross introduced
Wayne as the second of 2 men who killed Warren, the nephew of state Sen.
Nancy Cook, D-Kenton.
"I had to straighten it out because it was weighing
on me," Norcross said.
During cross-examination, Deputy Attorney General
Robert J. O'Neill suggested that Norcross' newly acquired pangs of
conscience may have been inspired by interaction with Swan, a 34-year-old
ex-Marine with martial arts training and gang affiliations.
The 2 men live on the same death row tier at the
Delaware Correctional Center near Smyrna, and, in response to a question,
Norcross acknowledged that he'd probably get a sound whipping in a fight
between the 2.
"Aren't you just substituting Wayne for Swan?"
O'Neill asked, drawing a negative response from Norcross.
Babiarz took the testimony under advisement, noting
that he'd issue a ruling after studying the hearing transcript and
reviewing motions on evidentiary issues from the prosecution and Swan's
lawyer, Christopher Tease.
In often-contradictory testimony, Norcross attempted
to discount police statements and court testimony in which witnesses,
including his estranged wife, Bridget Phillips, said they had heard
Norcross talk of teaming up with Swan for the break-in and slaying.
Norcross and Swan, who were co-workers at a
Middletown concrete plant, were convicted in separate trials, but they
were sentenced together by Babiarz.
According to Norcross, he was short of money on Nov.
4, 1996, and borrowed Swan's car with the intent to drive to the Clayton-area
home of his grandfather, whose name he could not immediately recall, and
steal some antique guns to sell later.
That plan, he said, was thwarted when he and Wayne
encountered a woman at the residence. The two, lost on west Kent County
back roads, eventually chose the Warren home for a random break-in.
Once the two men were inside the house, Norcross
testified, he attacked Warren, who was seated at a table and eating a
He knocked the victim off his chair and, with
Warren's wife and child crying out loud, shot him in the head during a
struggle on the floor.
At 2001 trial, there was testimony that several shots
were fired, including one that pierced Warren's skull from point-blank
range, but investigators never figured out which man fired the fatal
Norcross has filed his own motion for a new trial,
accusing his trial lawyers, assistant public defenders Lloyd Schmid and
Paul Swierzbinski, of ineffective counsel.
His appeal attorneys, Joseph A. Gabay and Jennifer-Kate
Aaronson, were present during the hearing to make sure that Norcross
didn't undermine attorney-client privilege or otherwise hurt his own
case while on the stand.
For their trouble, the killers got away with nothing
but an empty purse, which was found later behind the concrete plant.
And if there was a Wayne, O'Neill said, his body
apparently was never found.
Factual and Procedural Background
Shortly after 8 p.m. on November 4, 1996, the Warren
family was settling in for the night in their Kenton, Delaware home.
Kenneth Warren was sitting at the kitchen bar eating a sandwich while
his wife, Tina, and their 19-month-old son, Dustin, were sitting on the
family room couch watching television. Tina's mother Lillian had just
left, after babysitting Dustin while Tina attended an aerobics class.
Suddenly, two armed, masked men dressed in camouflage burst through the
glass patio doors leading to the family room. They immediately ran
into Kenneth and a struggle ensued. The intruders shot Kenneth four
times, killing him, while his wife and son watched. The intruders
grabbed Tina's purse from the kitchen counter and fled. During the
commission of this crime, Tina Warren observed that both assailants
carried handguns. One of the handguns appeared to be bronze or copper
colored. One assailant appeared to have been shot in the left shoulder.
Ballistics evidence indicated that Kenneth Warren had
been shot four times with two different types of handguns, a semi-automatic
and a revolver. Kenneth was shot twice in the back; once on the left
side of his head behind the left ear; and once through the top of his
head. The fourth bullet, fired from a gun barrel held tightly against
the top of his head, had traveled through the skull down into the back
of his neck, killing him instantly. Examination of the three bullets
removed from the victim's body revealed that the two back wounds had
been made by a .357 caliber copper/nickel jacketed bullets manufactured
by the Winchester Western Corporation under the “Silver Tip” trademark
and had been fired from a revolver, manufactured by either Smith &
Wesson, Ruger, or Taurus. A 10 mm/.40 S & W caliber triple copper
jacketed bullet fired from a 10mm semi-automatic gun made by Smith &
Wesson or Irwindale, however, caused the fatal wound.
Tina's credit cards and checkbook were found in late
November 1996 behind the rear fence of the Eastern Shore Concrete
Company in Middletown, Delaware. The police searched the area and
discovered her pocketbook fifteen feet away from the fence and her
telephone calling card just inside the fence. The discovery of the
purse and its contents at the concrete plant, however, did not lead to
Swan and Norcross both worked at the Eastern Shore
Concrete Company at the time of the murder. On October 20, 1996, about
a month before the murder, Norcross' former roommate reported the theft
of two handguns from his residence: a .357 caliber Smith & Wesson
revolver and a .40 caliber black Smith & Wesson semi-automatic handgun.
Around the same time, during the fall of 1996, another employee of the
concrete plant named Matthew Howell took work breaks with Swan and
Norcross. Howell later testified that a few weeks before the murder,
Norcross asked whether he wanted to join Norcross and Swan in a robbery.
About a week later, Norcross told Howell that he
drove a red sports car to a person's house located on a dark road and
fired a shot at a glass patio door around the back of the house. He
stated that he wore camouflage clothing and a mask that covered
everything but his eyes. When he entered the house, a man came up to
him and fell to his knees, grabbing hold of Norcross. Norcross put the
gun to the side of man's head and pulled the trigger and the man “fell
like a bag of potatoes.” Norcross told Howell that Swan was hit in the
shoulder either by the homeowner or crossfire. Norcross also told
Howell that he had earlier robbed an armory in Middletown and stole
fatigues and ration packs. He then told Howell that he grabbed a
pocketbook from this house and threw it in the woods behind the concrete
plant. Norcross then, allegedly in front of Howell, disposed of what
appeared to be a checkbook by dropping it into a concrete product that
was being poured. He also told Howell that he threw the guns into the
Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and burned the clothing in a barrel.
Norcross told all this to Howell because he claimed not to trust Swan
and wanted someone to know what happened. Howell did not report this
information to the police because Norcross threatened to kill him.
Norcross told Howell all this information a day after
the incident occurred. Within a day or so after this conversation,
Howell observed that Swan had injured his left shoulder and wore a
bloodstained bandage. In December of 1996, Howell, Swan, and Norcross
were laid off from the concrete plant.
Norcross dated Gina Ruberto during his employment at
the concrete plant. She observed Norcross with a black handgun that
had to be clicked back to operate. Ruberto also testified to seeing a
big green duffel bag in Norcross' bedroom. Ruberto testified that
Norcross was upset one night and showed her a newspaper article about a
murder and robbery. Norcross started crying and told her about
breaking into the back of a home occupied by a man and his wife while
wearing camouflage clothing. Norcross stated that he took a pocketbook
and disposed of it behind a fence at the concrete plant. Norcross also
stated that he threw the weapon in the water and burned the clothing in
the green duffel bag. Two weeks later, Ruberto saw Swan's left arm in
a sling. A few months later, she saw Swan without a shirt and noticed
a purplish bruise or scar on his shoulder. She asked Swan about the
scar and Swan stated he hurt his shoulder while boxing.
In 1997, Norcross worked as a farmhand near
Chesapeake City, Maryland. He married Bridget Phillips in April, and
in June or July of that year, Norcross invited Swan to work at the farm.
Swan moved into the same house with the couple, and one day Phillips
overheard a loud conversation between the two men. They were laughing
about an incident where Swan had been shot. Norcross then explained to
his wife that he and Swan had planned to “rob” an empty home, but found
it occupied. He told her that the victim fired a shot and died because
he “tried to play hero.” Later, Phillips saw Swan without his shirt
and observed a scar on his left shoulder. Norcross pointed to the scar
and said that scar resulted from a gunshot. Swan responded by sticking
his finger in the scar and saying, “Yes, and the bullet is still in
there.” Norcross also told Phillips that they would never be caught
because they had worn masks.
Norcross and Phillips separated in December 1997, and
two years later she contacted the Delaware State Police. The police
arrested Norcross on February 9, 2000, and he gave a statement the
following day. Norcross admitted that he was present during the
incident, but in this version of the story, said that Swan killed Warren.
Norcross claimed that Swan started shooting, but that Norcross' gun
would not fire. Swan allegedly grabbed Norcross' gun, cleared it, and
then used it to shoot Warren in the head. After the two men started
running to Swan's car, Swan told Norcross that he wanted to go back and
kill the woman because she was a witness. Norcross stopped Swan by
shooting him in the shoulder. The two men, who both worked at the
Eastern Shore Concrete Company in Middletown, disposed of Tina's purse
and their weapons the next day.
On a morning scheduled for preliminary hearings, Swan
and Norcross were in separate holding cells in the Kent County
courthouse when correctional officers intercepted a note Swan had
dictated to an inmate. In the note, Swan warned Norcross not to trust
or talk to his attorney and gave his grandmother's telephone number as a
means of communicating with him. Swan further warned Norcross, “Don't
say anything or if you did, say you lied.” Swan also told another
inmate that he had nothing to worry about as long as Norcross kept his
Warren's mother testified that she noticed a red car
parked nearby when she left shortly before the murder. Several
witnesses testified that Swan owned a red Dodge Daytona at the time of
the murder and later painted the car blue/black in April 1997.
Additional testimony revealed that Swan was placed on restricted duty at
the concrete plant due to a shoulder injury and that he had a scar on
his left shoulder consistent with a gunshot wound.
Swan was a martial arts boxer and presented an alibi
defense that he had sparred with a professional boxer named Michael
Stewart from October 1996 through November or early December 1996. He
also presented evidence that the scar on his shoulder could not have
resulted from a gunshot wound and that he showed no signs of injury when
he participated in a February 8, 1997 kickboxing tournament.
Swan's trial for Murder First Degree and related
charges began on June 5, 2001. The jury found Swan guilty of all
charges. At the penalty hearing following the conviction for Murder
First, the jury voted seven to five that the aggravating circumstances
outweighed the mitigating circumstances. On October 3, 2001, after
considering the jury recommendation, the trial judge sentenced Swan to