Couple nearly killed while helping sheriff ends 12-year legal battle: Hear their incredible story of survival

Jim and Norma Gund remember exactly what they were doing on March 13, 2011, when the phone rang.

There was a big snowstorm coming to Kettenpom, a northern California ranching and logging community of about 200 people. The Gunds had just returned from the store and were making sure their home and horses were ready for the impending weather.

On the other end of the phone line was Cpl. Ron Whitman with the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office. The Gunds’ neighbor, 33-year-old Kristine Constantino, had called 911, he said.

"He said, ‘Can you go down and check on her for me?’" Norma recalled in an interview with FOX TV Stations. "And I said, ‘Well, what was the phone call about? And he goes, ‘Well, it's probably just weather related. It's probably no big deal.’"

Two hours from the nearest law enforcement station, the Gunds did what almost anyone in their rural, tight-knit town would do: they drove the quarter-mile to the cabin where Constantino lived with her boyfriend, 26-year-old Christopher "Sky" Richardson.


An aerial view shows the Jim and Norma Gund's remote home in Kettenpom (The Sacramento Bee)

"And Ron Whitman said, ‘Here is my cell phone number. I want you to call me when you get back home and let me know how things went,'" Norma said. "Well, I never had a chance to call."

When Norma arrived, she found Constantino and Richardson dead. They were bound, tortured and killed by 32-year-old Tomas Pitagoras Gouverneur of Corvallis, Oregon. And Gouverneur wasn’t done yet.

The suspect slashed Norma’s throat and struck her with a taser repeatedly. When Jim heard Norma’s screams and ran into the house, Jim was also stabbed, beaten and tasered multiple times.

Miraculously, the Gunds survived – and after 12 years of legal battles, they recently settled their lawsuit against Trinity County for $7 million, The Sacramento Bee first reported. It’s the first time they’ve spoken on camera about the nightmare since it began.

The aftermath

Norma, then 49, lost consciousness after Gouverneur sliced her throat, hitting her carotid artery and windpipe. He cut her in the head and face, tasered her multiple times and beat her repeatedly.

When Norma came to, she saw Jim fighting with the suspect as he yelled for Norma to run. Norma was able to drive to the Kettenpom Store, but she couldn’t speak. She had to write down what happened before she collapsed.

Jim, who was 59 at the time, was able to grab the knife out of Gouverneur’s hands and run home to get a firearm. He found his bloodied wife at the store. Officials believe the repeated tasering may have helped to cauterize Norma’s wounds and stop her from bleeding to death.

Jim was taken to a hospital in Eureka for stitches, not knowing whether his wife was going to survive. Norma, meanwhile, was airlifted to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, a five-hour drive from Kettenpom. She remained there for 11 days.

READ MORE: Fears of possible Oregon serial killer rise after 6 women found dead in Portland area

Gouverneur, who was acquainted with the murder victims, was killed hours after the attack when he crashed his car into a tree during a police chase.

Norma and Jim said they didn’t have time to pray as the horror unfolded, but they credit a higher power for keeping them alive.

"I just acted," Norma recalled. "And I fought so hard and I think I stayed alive because … Kristine's eyes were on me no matter where I was in my little area, they were imploring me to get him. And I think they kept me going.


Norma Gund of Kettenpom, a rural community in Trinity County, shows tattoos of angels that she has on her wrists in early February 2018. Norma said angels kept her alive after the horrific attack. (The Sacramento Bee)

"And then my angels lifting me up out of there and taking me to the pickup truck. I didn't walk," she continued. "I remember looking down as much as I could because my throat was in really bad shape … my feet were swinging. So I was not walking and I felt the angel's wings reaching. And they were so soft. It was incredible. And the one on my left was female and she was the boss. And the one on my right was a male. And he did what she asked. And they got me to the truck."

Inside the cabin, Jim was determined to kill the suspect, he said, but then "a veil" came down and stopped him from doing so.

"And I was picked up like Norma and taken out to where my feet started touching the ground at the end of the driveway," he recalled. 

The lawsuit

The Gunds, who run a not-for-profit horse-riding academy at their home, said the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office never once checked on them in the days and weeks following the attack.

"It was crickets," Norma said. "We heard nothing."

While Norma was lying in a hospital bed, a deputy from another county approached Jim at UC Davis and asked him to identify the killer in a photo.

"And he said, ‘Mr. Gund, do you have counsel?’" Jim recalled. "'Do I need counsel?' And he goes, ‘Yes, Mr. Gund, you need to get counsel, now.'"

Still, the Gunds waited.


Jim Gund saddles his horse in the remote community of Kettenpom in Trinity County in February 2018. The Gunds have settled their lawsuit against Trinity County after a 12-year legal battle. (Hector Amezcua/Sacramento Bee/Tribune News Service via Gett

"I remember in the hospital I would look at the phone and I couldn't answer it. I couldn't speak," Norma said. "But I remember thinking, they'll come. They're going to call and see if they can help, you know, take care of the horses, because there was five feet of snow every day."

Neighbors and friends kept their horses fed and cared for, but the silence from the sheriff’s office was deafening. That's when the Gunds hired attorney Ben Mainzer to take on their case.

The Trinity County Sheriff’s Office later said the Gunds were only entitled to workers’ compensation, and California appellate courts agreed.

"The reason why in large part this case lasted for 12 years," Mainzer said, "is because the county was fighting us, fighting the Gunds, arguing, well, we're not required to compensate them fairly for what happened to them because they were county employees at the time this happened. They were, in essence, drafted into service.

"And it shocks me that if they're making this claim that the Gunds are their people, their employees, that they would treat their employees as poorly as they were treated," he continued.

The sheriff’s office denies ever asking the Gunds to physically check on their neighbors. They claim Whitman only called the Gunds to get information about Constantino and to ask if there were any strange vehicles on her property.

What Whitman failed to tell Norma, court documents show, is that Constantino had whispered for help during the 911 call – and the dispatcher was afraid to call back because Constantino may have been trying to avoid being heard.


Trinity County released the following statement in response to the settlement:

"The County can confirm the claims by the Gunds have settled in full.  While the County disputes most of the factual and legal contentions of the Gunds – including the allegation they were asked by the Sheriff’s Office to specifically enter the cabin residence where the 9-1-1 call was believed to have originated (versus merely viewing the cabin from their own adjoining property for any strange vehicles) – the County recognizes these longstanding members of our Trinity County community suffered a horrific attack with significant injuries.  Accordingly, we believed it to be in everyone’s best interests to bring this lengthy litigation to a constructive conclusion."

On March 18, 2011, seven days after the murders, the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office issued an updated press release stating, "At no time was Mrs. Gund instructed to go to Kristine’s residence," according to local reports.

"Nor would the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office ever send a citizen to perform a deputy’s job," the sheriff’s office said. 

‘Not business as usual’

According to Mainzer, it’s not the first time the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office has asked civilians to step in during potentially dangerous situations.

Mainzer said in 1997, an "armed and belligerent" mentally ill man named Haskell Hall barricaded himself in his trailer. The sheriff’s office responded by asking Hall’s neighbor, Carole Laag, to enter the trailer and negotiate with him.

Hall stabbed Laag to death before he was shot and killed by deputies with the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, Mainzer said.


An aerial view shows the Jim and Norma Gund's remote home in Kettenpom (The Sacramento Bee)

In 2008, Deena McGaughey called the sheriff’s office about someone shooting toward her home, Mainzer said. When the responding deputy arrived, he reportedly had a neighbor dress in camouflage clothing and run across McGaughey’s property to distract the shooter so the deputy could find him.

Mainzer said they only found out about the 2008 incident because McGaughey called his office after hearing about the Gunds. When Mainzer inquired about the incident, the sheriff’s office said all records about the McGaughey call had been destroyed.

Mainzer said the sheriff’s office has not implemented any policy changes in response to the attacks. He also claims the sheriff’s office never launched an internal investigation into Whitman’s actions and his phone call with the Gunds.

"Every indication that Corporal Whitman had about the call was not business as usual," Mainzer said. "He knew that the caller been whispering for help, that the dispatcher who had taken the call … was leery of calling her back for fear that she was trying to hide.

"All of this was information Whitman knew … and none of that information was given to Norma," he continued. 

"I trusted him. I had no reason not to," Norma said.  

The sheriff’s office did not specifically address these allegations in its statement to FOX TV Stations. 

‘Still in recovery’

More than a decade after the attack, there are still days when Norma doesn’t want to get out of bed. The Gunds are grateful for their friends, their horses and the students they serve, but Norma can’t remember the last time she rode a horse.

"Just because we settled out of court, it doesn’t magically go away," Norma said.

"There are several distinct triggers that we have to deal with," Jim explained. "When she was on the phone the other day and she was talking to a friend of ours and she said, ‘Oh, that’s Jim coming in … I'll talk to him about it.’ And it's the same as when she was on the phone with [Corporal] Whitman and she was saying, ‘Okay, well, Jim just showed up.’"

Norma said when Jim cleans the wood-burning stove in their home, the smell of creosote brings her right back to the cabin where her life – and her community – were forever changed.

"People don’t leave the keys in their car anymore," Norma said. "People lock their doors."

What’s next

The Gunds have waited 12 years to tell their story. Now that the lawsuit is behind them, they hope their case will inspire meaningful change.

"Law enforcement, as Norma said, is supposed to protect and serve, not lie and misrepresent," Mainzer said. "And when law enforcement induces civilians through lies to expose themselves to a danger they would not otherwise face, there shouldn't just be civil consequences for that. There should be criminal consequences. It's something we're going to work on."

"As tired as we are … we want to shine a light on what Trinity County is doing," Norma offered. "I don’t want this to happen again."

Asked if they have any advice for how to cope with such unspeakable tragedy, Jim had three simple words: "Don’t give up."

"There are people who want nothing more than to help you. Find it, and hang on to it, and keep going," Jim said. "I'm not going to say it's coming back, but I'm going to say that at least we're making efforts in that direction. We're trying. We're still in recovery."

"I think of Sky and Kristine all the time, and their parents and their sisters and brothers," Norma added. "But I know we’ll get through it. It’s just going to take a while."