Ex-boyfriend of yoga-store slaying suspect sought restraining order in ’07

May 1, 2011

Brittany Norwood, the woman charged with killing her co-worker at a high-end yoga store, punched, pushed and threw things at a former boyfriend who ultimately obtained a judge’s order to keep her away from him in October 2007, according to D.C. Superior Court records.

Norwood, 28, violated the court order later that year by following the man and his new girlfriend in a car, court documents show.

Detectives, friends and colleagues have struggled to understand what could have propelled Norwood, who is accused of killing Jayna Murray, 30, in March. Norwood had no criminal past, according to a review of national court records.

But Maury Branch III and Branch’s then-girlfriend, Marjorie Noel, offered details in court filings that provide new insights into the woman authorities say stabbed and bludgeoned Murray inside the Lululemon Athletica store on Bethesda Row and staged an elaborate attempt to cover it up.

Branch reported that Norwood used his alarm code, entered his home and stole one of Noel’s cellphones. Branch said Norwood also called Noel, said hello and hung up. He also alleged that Norwood stole one of his cellphones. He filed the affidavit with the court’s domestic violence unit Oct. 3, 2007.

Norwood agreed to the order about two weeks later, but the court papers say Norwood risked criminal charges by continuing to follow Branch and Noel.

Branch wrote that he ended his relationship with Norwood in February 2007 but that Norwood continued to call “once a week asking to meet” with him. He told Norwood that he only wanted to be friends, but she “seems not to understand that the relationship is over,” he wrote.

Noel, in her own court filing, accused Norwood of stalking her. Branch declined to comment. Noel, whose contact information was listed as confidential on court papers, could not be reached.

Branch told D.C. court officials that Norwood needed “anger management” and a “psychiatric evaluation,” according to court records. “Petitioner fears for his safety,” according to the filing.

But it’s unclear whether a court would ever have ordered a mental evaluation or anger management counseling for Norwood or whether such actions could have prevented Murray’s death.

There was never a hearing in the case. Norwood agreed to the stay-away order without admitting to the accusations, and no judge heard the case or examined Branch’s assertions.

On Nov. 30, 2007, Noel filed another complaint, saying the couple saw Norwood in a dark blue Honda Accord near Branch’s office in the District before she followed them to his neighborhood and an Office Depot in Silver Spring.

Court officials scheduled a criminal contempt hearing for two weeks later, on Dec. 14. Two days before the hearing, Norwood told the court that she needed more notice to get time off from her job at the Willard InterContinental Hotel. “This matter is very serious to me,” she wrote.

A judge rescheduled the hearing, and it was later moved to January 2008 so Norwood could find an attorney. She hired Carol Blume, according to court records, but Blume later withdrew from the case because of a “conflict” with Norwood that made it “impossible” for Blume to represent her. Calls to Blume were not returned Friday.

Norwood didn’t appear at subsequent hearings, according to court records. A bench warrant was issued for her arrest in May 2008. Norwood never was arrested, and the warrant expired a year later, as was customary for violations of court orders at the time.

“These are allegations stemming from a domestic situation, which were never proven in court,” said Norwood’s attorney, Christopher A. Griffiths.

Norwood, who studied for several years at Stony Brook University in Long Island, N.Y., later moved to the Washington area. By February 2006, she was dating Branch, according to his filing in D.C. Superior Court.

Montgomery County detectives are working to shore up their evidence and disprove the coverup they say Norwood concocted immediately after the attack and for several days after Murray’s death.

Capt. David Gillespie, head of the major crimes division, said the documents follow a pattern they have picked up in Norwood’s life, particularly when it came to allegations of theft: She was able to present herself as engaging and cheerful, but those close to her sometimes saw another side.

“Brittany was able to mask it,” Gillespie said.

He called some allegations in the petition “alarming” but said they didn’t foreshadow the level of violence that erupted inside the store. “How do you connect the dots? I don’t think you do. But it is one more building block of information about her,” Gillespie said.

Montgomery detectives said Norwood, who originally told officials that she was a victim in the attack, said two men in masks slipped into the store after closing and attacked her and Murray. Norwood was discovered bound and injured in a store bathroom.

Keith Alexander covers crime, specifically D.C. Superior Court cases for The Washington Post. He has covered dozens of crime stories from Banita Jacks, the Washington woman charged with killing her four daughters, to the murder trial of intern Chandra Levy.
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