Brittany Norwood convicted of killing Lululemon co-worker Jayna Murray

November 2, 2011

Brittany Norwood’s journey from supposed victim to brutal killer ended Wednesday when a jury convicted her of first-degree murder in the slaying of a co-worker at an upscale Bethesda yoga-clothing store.

It took Montgomery County Circuit Court jurors less than an hour to reach the guilty verdict in one of the Washington region’s most sensational murder cases, which became known for both its savagery and surprises.

The decision culminated a six-day trial during which prosecutors detailed the gruesome March attack against Jayna Murray, 30. The woman endured at least 331 stabbing, cutting, beating and choking wounds before she succumbed in a back hallway of the Lululemon Athletica store.

Murray’s father, David Murray, sobbed as the verdict was read, his arm around his wife, Phyllis, who also cried. Norwood showed no emotion.

“More than anything, I know the trauma our family has been through,” Phyllis Murray said after the trial. “I want no other family to go through this.”

David Murray said the experience had left him numb. His daughter, he said, “contributed 30 years of beauty, and we believe she would have contributed another 90 years of beauty.”

There was never a question of whether Norwood, 29, killed Murray — defense lawyers admitted her guilt from the start. The trial came down to what was in Norwood’s head that Friday night.

Montgomery State’s Attorney John McCarthy stressed that the attack was continuous and brutal, proving that it was premeditated. Norwood grabbed any makeshift weapon she could find. Prosecutors said she probably used, among other items, a hammer, knife, wrench, a rope and a metal peg used to hold a mannequin. He asked jurors to imagine a wound inflicted every three seconds — a rate that would stretch the attack to 16 minutes.

“There were dozens of opportunities, multiple times, that she could have stopped this,” McCarthy said in his closing argument Wednesday.

Norwood’s attorneys didn’t call a single witness. They tried to convince jurors in their closing that the killing wasn’t planned, hoping to earn a conviction for a lesser charge of murder that carries a shorter prison term. They left jurors Wednesday with an impassioned plea: Norwood was “not in her right state of mind.”

“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the product of an explosion,” Douglas Wood said in his closing, holding up an autopsy photograph of Murray’s mutilated head, “the product of someone who lost it.”

But jurors were not swayed. One member of the panel, Ron Harrington, 35, of Germantown, said that as soon as deliberations began, jurors took a vote on a first-degree murder charge. “Everyone’s hand went up immediately,” he said. After that, they discussed a lesser charge, but no one was convinced.

Harrington was swayed by the number of wounds inflicted on Murray. “Basically, it took a long, long time,” he said. “Brittany had . . . many opportunities to stop.”

Another juror, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy, said Norwood “constantly kept making the decision to continue” the attack. “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?”

Norwood faces the possibility of life in prison without parole. Her sentencing is Jan. 27.

An elaborate tale

At first, Murray’s slaying and Norwood’s tale had merchants and shoppers fearful of random killers around Bethesda Row. Murray was found March 12 when a manager at Lululemon arrived at work to find the shop in disarray and called 911. Murray was dead in a back hallway, surrounded by blood. Norwood was in a bathroom, tied up and moaning.

From a hospital bed, Norwood began to tell detectives a string of lies. She said two masked men slipped into the store after closing and attacked her and Murray. It was an elaborate tale of a double rape and a threat to slit her throat. She said that one of the men pummeled Murray and that one dragged her by her hair. None of it was true.

Norwood soon became a suspect. Her story didn’t add up. The evidence — bloody shoeprints, her own minor injuries, blood in Murray’s car — didn’t track with her account. She was charged seven days after the slaying.

Jurors convicted Norwood, even though prosecutors never presented them with a motive for the killing. That night, authorities have said, Murray checked Norwood’s purse as the two left the store — a common anti-theft procedure. In the purse, Murray found a pair of yoga pants that she thought Norwood had stolen.

The two women left for the night, but Norwood called Murray and said she had left her wallet behind. They met back at the store.

In his closing argument, McCarthy reconstructed a gruesome narrative from the autopsy, testimony from employees at the Apple Store next to Lululemon who heard screaming and grunting, cellphone records, burglar alarm records and forensic evidence.

He said that Norwood was guilty of “mutilating” Murray after luring her back to the store by calling her and telling her she had left her wallet.

“The wallet was nonsense,” McCarthy told jurors.

Alarm records confirmed that the two reentered the store at 10:05 p.m. A short time later, Apple employees began to hear screams and the sounds of something being hit or dragged.

“The killing begins almost immediately,” he said.

McCarthy said that Norwood probably struck Murray in the back of the head. Taking out a key piece of evidence — a heavy, metal blood-stained peg that had been used to hold merchandise — McCarthy pounded it on a table. He projected an autopsy photo showing cracks in Murray’s skull.

Forensic evidence suggested Murray staggered from the blow, lifted her hand to the bloody wound on the back of her head and fell into a wall, leaving behind a bloody print. Murray tried to make it to a rear exit, which also became smeared with her blood.

“This was her last mad dash to try to save her life,” McCarthy said. “She’s trying to flee. She’s trying to save her life.”

After the attack, Norwood staged the scene. She used size 14 Reebok sneakers to track bloody prints around the store, trying to make it appear as though a large man had been there. She staged a robbery and tossed mops, brooms and chairs around the store.

Prosecutors said Norwood’s lies showed the cunning and guile of a killer who knew what she was doing. Defense lawyers said the lies should have been seen in the context of their absurdity: an illustration of just how out of control and delusional Norwood was.

Staff writers Dana Hedgpeth, Katie Rogers and Michael S. Rosenwald contributed to this report.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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