GALLERY: The trial of Brittany Norwood. | Above, Jayna Murray's parents arrive at the courthouse.
When the jurors sat around a table to decide Brittany Norwood’s fate they started by polling the group: Who was leaning toward first-degree murder?
According to three of the jurors in that room, the jury in Norwood’s murder trial then took time to discuss the defense case. They wanted to make sure they thoroughly considered the argument Norwood’s lawyers put forward: that she simply snapped the night she killed Jayna Murray in a Bethesda yoga store.
“Every story we came up with, there was a point at which she could have stopped, a point at which she would have been weighing the decision,” said juror Ron Harrington, 35. “A point at which her options were still available, and she still had time to think about them.”
For six days, the jurors heard about the March night that Norwood killed Murray. They heard about Murray’s wounds, which numbered more than 300, and knew she endured all of them before she died. They saw Murray’s grieving parents, and looked at autopsy photos of her bruised and battered body.
“I’ve been at it for five years. I’ve worked on some jury trials. Nothing like this,” said juror Donny Knepper, 36, a criminal defense lawyer from Rockville.
“It was exhausting,” Knepper said. “I stayed open throughout the whole thing. I did not reach a conclusion until the very end.”
Harrington said some of the jurors had trouble sleeping nights during the trial. For him, the most difficult moment was when Murray’s mother, Phyllis, took the stand.
But he also felt sympathy for Norwood’s family.
“Nobody wants to think of their daughter of being capable of these things,” Harrington said. “You could tell that both families were involved and connected with their daughters. I’m very sorry for both of their losses, and I wouldn’t want to even try to imagine how horrible that is.”
When they first entered the jury room Wednesday afternoon, there was a few minutes of small talk as they waited for the evidence to be brought in. Once deliberations began, they talked about the duration of the attack and the medical examiner’s testimony, Harrington said. They held a metal merchandise peg, an item prosecutors indicated was used as a weapon, to feel its weight.
Harrington said every juror was asked his or her opinions, everyone had a chance to talk.
In the end, they took another, more formal, vote and agreed Norwood was guilty of first-degree, premeditated murder. They delivered a verdict in less than an hour.
One juror, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy, said he was swayed by the sheer number of injuries. The evidence, prosecutors had told them, suggested Murray was attacked using weapons that included a hammer, a knife, a rope and the merchandise peg.
“It was just not really a hard conclusion to come to. How do you hit someone 300 times and not think that you’re going to kill them?” the juror said.
It was hard, some of the jurors and an alternate juror said, to hear about the brutality. They had to keep it to themselves during the trial. During breaks they chatted about things like football. But Murray’s death weighed on them.
“You try to detach yourself,” Harrington said. ‘This is a game. This is like Clue. This isn’t real.’ You think it’s a TV show. You pretend it’s just like that.”