BALLSTON SPA — The Hadley man who police said killed his wife with a hatchet in the couple’s home last spring pleaded guilty Thursday to a murder charge.

Michael C. Norton admitted killing Sherry Norton last May 3 in the Third Avenue home they shared, pleading guilty to second-degree murder and agreeing to serve a 20-years-to-life state prison term.

He did not make specific admissions in court Thursday as to how he killed Norton, according to Post-Star newspartner NewsChannel 13, but police said he hit her with a hatchet during an alcohol-fueled fight in their home.

Norton, 58, had rejected the plea deal offer earlier this week, when pre-trial hearings began to determine whether confessions he gave to Saratoga County sheriff’s officers could be used during trial to start Oct. 30. But after consultation with his lawyers and family on Thursday, he opted to plead guilty instead of pursue a trial.

That decision came after two Saratoga County sheriff’s officers and a former officer testified Tuesday that they heard Norton made admissions of guilt, including one who heard him tell an investigator that he hit his wife during an argument over a cigarette lighter. Those comments came as he was being treated at Saratoga Hospital in the days after his wife’s death for “alcohol and drug” issues, police said.

But when brought to court Thursday for the continuation of the pre-trial hearing, Norton instead opted to accept the plea agreement. The Saratoga County District Attorney’s Office had indicated that the plea deal offer would be withdrawn at the conclusion of the hearing.

He could have faced up to 27-1/3 years-to-life in state prison if maximum sentences were run consecutively.

Mr. Norton had a history of domestic violence and was awaiting sentencing for a felony reckless endangerment plea that stemmed from his shooting in a gun in their home when his wife was present. He could have faced consecutive sentences in that case and the homicide case.

His wife was found dead in the 7 Third Ave. home shortly before 1 a.m. that day, when Saratoga County sheriff’s officers responded to a 911 call from the home.

Saratoga County Sheriff Michael Zurlo said a neighbor reported a problem at the home, and officers arrived to find both Nortons there.

Sheriff’s deputies determined Mrs. Norton, found on the living room floor, was gravely injured and her death was suspicious.

An autopsy performed the next day led to the conclusion she was the victim of a homicide and died of “blunt force trauma” to the back of her head, the sheriff said. Her husband confessed later that day.

Mr. Norton is being held in Saratoga County Jail pending sentencing Jan. 11 by Saratoga County Judge James Murphy.

Mrs. Norton was the mother of an adult daughter and worked for an agency that assisted developmental disabled people.

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Don Lehman covers crime and Warren County government for The Post-Star. His work can be found on Twitter @PS_CrimeCourts and on poststar.com/app/blogs.

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