Nearly a year after Omar Abas Sharif was strangled to death at Utah State Hospital, Utah County prosecutors have filed a first-degree felony murder charge against his roommate at the Provo mental health institution.
James Clive Norman, 34, is accused in the March 18, 2011, slaying of the 28-year-old Sharif, according to a case filed in 4th District Court on Wednesday. Norman remains in the Utah State Hospital. His first court appearance on the murder charges is scheduled for Feb. 21 at the district courthouse in Provo. The murder charge carries the possibility of life in prison.
The murder charge alleges that about 1 a.m. on March 18, Norman had approached a nurse in the hospital’s Forensic Unit and "complained that he could not sleep because Mr. Sharif was snoring too loudly,"
A half hour later, Norman again purportedly contacted the nurse to report that "something was wrong with him [Sharif]," and that Sharif needed a doctor. Norman then acknowledged having been in an altercation with Sharif during which he "slammed Mr. Sharif’s head into the wall, hit Mr. Sharif in the throat, and choked Mr. Sharif," court documents state.
The nurse and other hospital staffers found Sharif on the floor between his bed and the wall with no signs of life. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.
The State Medical Examiner’s Office conducted an autopsy and determined that Sharif was strangled.
Charges were slow to be filed in part due to Norman’s mental state. A judge already had found him incompetent to stand trial in an unrelated case and Deputy Utah County Attorney Doug Finch told The Tribune last year he had to consider that in determining Norman’s intent and research legal precedents. Finch did not return a message seeking comment Wednesday, nor did an attorney representing Norman.
The family had been previously frustrated by the lack of information provided to them about the case, but a Provo Police Department spokesman says the department was unable to reveal specifics because the case was part of an ongoing investigation.
Records indicate that, in January 2010, Norman pleaded no contest in Spanish Fork’s 4th District Court to a class A misdemeanor sexual-battery count. After Norman allegedly assaulted his public defender during a July court appearance, he was charged with felony assault and a competency hearing was ordered. In September of that year, Judge Donald Eyre found Norman incompetent to stand trial and ordered him to Utah State Hospital.
A hearing is scheduled for March 6 to determine Norman’s ability to stand trial in the assault case.
Sharif, who also had been charged in a sexual battery case, began his stay at the hospital in 2009 as a result of an incident on a Utah Transit Authority bus in Salt Lake City. He was ranting and refused to leave the bus. The Kenyan immigrant assaulted the bus driver, rubbing her neck and breasts, court documents state. He was charged with trying to hijack a bus, a felony, and misdemeanor sexual battery.
Nate Carlisle contributed to this report.
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