Brittany Norwood should never be freed, prosecutors contend in Bethesda yoga store murder case

Prosecutors contend that Brittany Norwood is beyond rehabilitation and are asking that she never be set free after brutally murdering a co-worker last year at a Bethesda yoga store and terrifying a community with an elaborate tale of masked killers on the loose.

Norwood, 29, had persisted in lying to police and her family about being a victim in the attack that left Jayna Murray, 30, dead in a back hallway of the Lululemon Athletica store March 12.

A jury convicted Norwood of first-degree murder in November and she is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in Montgomery County Circuit Court.

Norwood’s expansive and steadfast lies during a week-long coverup — “coupled with her lack of remorse” — speak to the “tremendous danger” Norwood would pose if released, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy states in a sentencing memo. He urges that she be imprisoned with no chance of parole.

Murray suffered more than 330 distinct wounds and was alive for each of them, court testimony showed.

After the murder, Norwood arranged the crime scene to support a coverup. She tracked size 14 sneakers through Murray’s blood to make it appear that a large man had attacked them, and then she tied herself up inside the store overnight. An employee arriving for work the next morning found the two women, and Norwood said she and Murray had been attacked and sexually assaulted by masked intruders.

That cunning “is evil” and Norwood is “a pathological liar,” the prosecution memo says.

“It is the State’s firm belief that this defendant cannot be rehabilitated and will pose a danger to the community should she ever be released from prison,” the prosecution memo says. The murder and the “callous efforts” to avoid responsibility for the killing are “precisely” what life without parole was designed to punish, according to the memo.

Norwood’s attorneys are preparing a sentencing recommendation to the court, said Douglas Wood, a lawyer on the defense team. Asked about the prosecutor’s position, Wood said it “is expected but unwarranted.”

“A sentence of life without the possibility of parole is a sentence of death by incarceration which is uncalled for in this case,” Wood said in an e-mail. “The community would be better served by a sentence that gives her the possibility of parole.”

Norwood would not be guaranteed parole even if she had a chance at it, Wood said. “A sentence with the possibility of parole will however maximize her chances of getting treatment for her mental illness while incarcerated and will increase her chances of rehabilitation,” Wood said.

Norwood’s attorneys never disputed that she killed Murray, but in pleas to the jurors, they said her act was not planned and was the “product of an explosion” from a woman who was “not in her right state of mind.”

At one point, Norwood’s defense team indicated that it was exploring an insanity plea, known in Maryland as a plea of “not criminally responsible.” But ultimately the defense did not file such a plea.

Why Norwood killed Murray is not clear.

Authorities have said that on the night of the attack, Murray checked Norwood’s purse as a routine anti-theft measure and found a pair of yoga pants that she thought Norwood had stolen.

However, prosecutors did not present a motive to jurors in court and do not suggest one in the sentencing memo.

Norwood, who grew up outside Seattle, and Murray, who was born in Wichita but moved often growing up, had been a perfect sales team, according to many customers. But in in her attack on Murray, described at the trial, Norwood reached for a hammer, a knife, a wrench, a rope and a metal peg used to hold a mannequin. Screams rang out so sharply that employees of an adjoining store heard them through the wall, jurors were told.

Norwood’s initial account of the slaying had merchants and shoppers fearful of random killers around Bethesda Row. The prosecution’s sentencing memo notes the impact on the community and says police tracked 300 tips from people misled, as were police, by Norwood’s story that intruders had slipped into the store after closing and attacked and raped her and Murray.

Norwood’s string of lies collapsed under mounting forensic evidence.

Her attorneys have argued that the absurdity of the lies showed how out of control she was.

But prosecutors argued at trial — and again in the memo — that Norwood’s ability “to portray herself as an innocent, trustworthy young woman” is what “makes her so dangerous.”

Staff writer Dan Morse contributed to this report.

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
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