Defense attorneys for Brittany Norwood, the woman charged with killing a co-worker in a Bethesda yoga shop, likely will assert that their client is not criminally responsible because of mental illness, according to recent filings in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
The lawyers also asked a judge to postpone Norwood’s October trial so they can further investigate her medical, social and educational background.
Norwood, 29, is charged with first-degree murder in the March killing of Jayna Murray, 30, inside the Lululemon Athletica store. Prosecutors have said they will seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole if Norwood is convicted.
In Maryland, the so-called “insanity defense” is known as NCR, or Not Criminally Responsible. It holds that, because of a mental disorder or mental retardation, suspects may lack the capacity to appreciate that their conduct was illegal or can lack the capacity to “conform that conduct to the requirements of law,” according to statutory definitions. If a defendant is found not criminally responsible, they may be committed to a psychiatric institution.
Norwood’s lawyers “believe that an NCR defense is warranted, and an NCR plea is likely,” the lawyers, Douglas Wood and Chris Griffiths, wrote in the filing, submitted Friday and made available at the courthouse Monday.
Norwood initially told police that she and Murray were both attacked and sexually assaulted by two masked men who slipped into the store after closing time on March 11. But as forensic evidence piled up against Norwood, detectives began to doubt her story and alleged that she attacked Murray, and then injured herself and tied herself up as part of the cover-up.
Norwood is college-educated and bright, so her lawyers would have to show evidence of mental illness.
Norwood’s lawyers said in court last week they were exploring the possibility of a defense of not criminally responsible. The recent filing firms up those intentions. They said they have retained a forensic psychiatrist and are “interviewing any person who has had a significant relationship with” Norwood, according to court papers.
Her lawyers also are arguing that police did not properly inform Norwood of her Miranda rights or that she provided involuntary statements, and that five interviews she gave to detectives should not be admitted at trial. In a court filing, Norwood’s lawyers specified when and where the interviews took place.
• March 12, Suburban Hospital, about 10:25 a.m. This interview occurred about two hours after police were called to the store and found Murray’s body and Norwood tied up in a bathroom. The questioning at the hospital lasted almost an hour, Norwood was in distress, and she did not want to speak with police, according to her lawyers. That is at odds with what the police said: At the time, detectives considered Norwood a victim.
• March 12, Suburban Hospital, afternoon. The filing makes similar claims to the first hospital interview.
• March 14, Norwood’s home. Norwood’s lawyers said their client “was not allowed to leave” and should have been informed of her constitutional rights.
• March 16, Montgomery police headquarters. By now, it had been at least two days since Norwood was developed as the prime suspect, according to her attorneys. She should have been informed of her constitutional rights to remain silent and consult an attorney, but wasn’t according to the filing..
• March 18, Police headquarters. Detectives did try to advise Norwood of her rights, but to date haven’t demonstrated that the advice was complete, according to Norwood’s lawyers.
Prosecutors weren’t immediately available to comment on the filing and a police spokesman declined to comment citing the pending trial. It is common for defense attorneys to challenge such statements.
Detectives also are allowed wide latitude to question suspects without having them in “custody,” even at police stations. If detectives tell suspects they are allowed to leave, and make it clear to them that that is they case, they do not necessarily have to advise suspects of their constitutional rights to remain silent and consult an attorney.