A Montgomery County judge, his voice rising in anger at times, sentenced Brittany Norwood to life in prison without the chance of parole Friday for the savage killing of co-worker Jayna Murray in a Bethesda yoga store last year.
In the climax to a sensational murder case that rocked Bethesda’s tony downtown retail district, Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg locked eyes on the diminutive, 29-year-old defendant seated before him in a black pantsuit.
“Cold-blooded . . . brutal . . . calculated . . . deliberate . . . devious . . . malicious,” was how the judge described Norwood and the murder she committed in the Lululemon Athletica store. The sentence brought a burst of applause from a courtroom packed with more than 200 people, including relatives of Norwood and Murray.
“Please!” the judge scolded, silencing the crowd.
Norwood, speaking publicly for the first time since the killing, briefly addressed Murray’s family before learning her punishment. “Before I go to prison,” she said, “I needed you to hear how deeply sorry I am.”
In an after-hours confrontation apparently sparked by Norwood’s attempt to steal a pair of yoga pants, authorities said, she bludgeoned, choked and stabbed Murray, using at least five weapons to inflict more than 330 separate wounds. Then she gave herself a few minor wounds, bound her own hands and ankles in a restroom, and initially fooled detectives with an elaborate tale about a pair of masked intruders.
Until the coverup unraveled a few days later, police considered Norwood a victim of two killers on the loose, and fear reigned on the upscale streets of Bethesda Row.
“You’re one hell of a liar, ma’am,” Greenberg said Friday, in a tone of contempt.
Norwood and her attorneys had sought of sentence of life with a chance of parole. “I don’t even ask this for myself,” Norwood said as she dabbed tears with a tissue. “I truly ask this for my family, especially my mom and dad.” But the judge was unmoved.
“I have no doubt, Ms. Norwood, that you are a deeply troubled woman,” Greenburg told her. However, “my sympathy for your plight, ma’am, does not begin — does not begin — to approach what I feel for the Murray family.”
With or without parole, he said: “You will live. You will see another sunrise, another sunset. It may be through a prison window. There’ll be Christmases, there’ll be telephone calls, there’ll be visits. The only visits Jayna Murray will have are those to her grave.”
In arguing that the prolonged brutality of the killing and the seemingly remorseless coverup attempt made life without parole a fitting punishment for Norwood, State’s Attorney John McCarthy summoned eight of Murray’s relatives and friends to a lectern, where each sadly addressed the judge.
Murray, 30, a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University, was bright, loving, compassionate, intelligent, adventurous and devoted to her family, they said.
“Of the many stages of grief, I have not moved away from rage,” her father, David Murray, told Greenberg. He recalled leading soldiers in combat as an Army officer and seeing changes in their psyches as they grew accustomed to fighting. “Once bloodied, the second time is easier and probably more likely,” he said of killing. And that would be true of Norwood, he said, if she were someday let out of prison.
Phyllis Murray said her daughter’s death was “a pain that ripped through our bodies. The grief is like a lightning strike. It is so powerful. It is so intense.” She said, “This individual must be removed from society forever.”
As Norwood sat silent and almost motionless at the defendant’s table, her eyes cast downward, one of Murray’s two older brothers, an Army captain in dress uniform, strode to the lectern. “Your honor, I’m Hugh Murray, and I am a victim of murder — my sister Jayna’s murder.” Then, in a halting voice, he read his statement.
“Nothing will ever return to normal,” he said. “Nothing will ever be the same.”
Hugh Murray’s wife, Kate, told Greenberg: “When we do sleep, we as often as not have nightmares about Jayna’s murder.” Of the Murray family, once vibrant and resolutely upbeat, she said: “There is no hope. There is no joy. There is no true laughter.”
Then Murray’s other brother, Dirk Murray, invoked the three Furies of Greek mythology, Dante’s nine circles of hell, and the Old Testament story of Cain and Abel, telling the judge, “I’ve explored all to see what kind of hell awaits Ms. Norwood.”
His wife, April, came next, then Jayna Murray’s longtime boyfriend, Fraser Bocell. “No longer can I look forward to our children, praying they have Jayna’s smile and her indomitable spirit,” Bocell said. One of Murray’s closest friends, Marisa Connaughton, told the judge, “A dark cloud has been cast over my heart.”
At Norwood’s trial late last year, there was no dispute over whether she had killed Murray. Defense attorneys sought a verdict of second-degree murder, arguing that the crime was committed in the heat of passion and without premeditation. McCarthy, who prosecuted the case, contended that the killing was intentional and deliberate, and the jury agreed, convicting Norwood of first-degree murder. She was star soccer player in high school and college and had no criminal record before the killing.
On Friday, Norwood showed emotion only after the Murray family was done speaking. She softly cried as one of her brothers, Sandre Norwood, stood at the lectern. “There’s another side to Brittany that was not brought out at the trial,” he said.
“Please, your honor: At least give her some hope,” he said, asking for parole eligibility. “If you leave her with hope, you in turn leave our family with hope.”
The sentencing brought to a close one of the most bizarre and high-profile murder cases in Montgomery in years.
To try to conceal her crime, Norwood tracked size-14 sneakers through Murray’s blood to make it appear as if a large man had been there. Then she tied herself up and waited overnight. She was found the next morning, moaning in the restroom. For days, she lied to the police and to her family, weaving the story of the ski-masked attackers. But her account crumbled under the weight of mounting forensic evidence.
Greenberg, who has worked in the Montgomery justice system for decades, said he could recall only two cases “that approach the brutality of this case.”
The savagery of the killing, he said, is “nothing short of astounding to me.”
Staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.