Grunts, screams came from behind Lululemon wall, Apple Store workers testify

The Apple Store employees were closing up for the night. One of them heard strange sounds from the other side of the wall: grunts, thuds, hysterical screams.

“Talk to me. Don’t do this,” a voice said. “Talk to me. What’s going on?”

“At that point, there was some more sounds, kind of, screams, yelps, yells,” Jana Svrzo, a manager at the Apple Store in Bethesda, said Friday, testifying on the third day of Brittany Norwood’s murder trial in the killing of her Lululemon Athletica co-worker.

The screams faded. Then Svrzo heard low, quiet tones.

“God help me,” Svrzo recalled hearing. “Please help me.”

Montgomery County prosecutors called Svrzo and her colleague, Ricardo Rios, as witnesses, hoping to establish that the March 11 killing of Jayna Murray was drawn out.

The prosecutors are trying to prove that Norwood committed premeditated, first-degree murder. They say forensic evidence shows a prolonged attack: Murray suffered at least 322 wounds, and Norwood probably used an array of weapons, including a hammer, wrench, rope, knife and metal bars used to hold mannequins and merchandise.

Norwood’s attorneys concede that their client killed Murray. They are trying to show that it started as a back-and-forth fight, that Norwood snapped and that it was over quickly. In other words, they contend, the killing wasn’t willful or deliberate.

The distinction could make a big difference. In Maryland, premeditated murder carries the possibility of life with no parole. Second-degree murder carries a maximum of 30 years in prison with a chance for release after 15 years.

Douglas Wood, Norwood’s attorney, was able to establish that within six to nine minutes of the initial sounds, the Apple employees didn’t hear anything else from next door. But under Maryland law, prosecutors don’t have to establish a drawn-out planning phase for premeditated murder. It can be as short as a few seconds.

Wood also highlighted the fact that the Apple employees did not intervene, apparently to bolster his point that the attack was quick.

While cross-examining Rios, a senior manager, Wood recalled a conversation that Rios had early in the case with Detective Deana Mackie.

“I think you told Detective Mackie you just thought it was some drama going on?” Wood asked.

“Correct,” Rios said.

Wood also pushed Svrzo, suggesting the fact that she didn’t go check out the yoga store was an indication she didn’t hear anything that needed checking out.

“If someone had yelled out ‘Help!’ you would have gone to help, right?”

“It’s hard to say what I would have done,” Svrzo said.

Neither Svrzo nor Rios would comment after their testimony. An Apple spokeswoman declined to comment earlier when the employees’ actions were detailed.

Svrzo said that the voice that said, “God help me,” was different than the one that said, “Talk to me. Don’t do this.”

Svrzo and others closed the Apple store about 9:30 p.m. Shortly after 10 p.m., she said, she heard noise on the other side of the wall.

It sounded like something heavy was being hit or dragged, she testified. There was some grunting and high-pitched squealing.

She went upstairs to ask Rios to come down and listen. Together, they walked closer to the wall. “We heard some screaming and yelling,” Svrzo said. “It sounded like a female voice that was, it sounded like hysterical noises, and then followed by a different female voice that was saying, ‘Talk to me. Don’t do this. Talk to me. What’s going on?’ ”

Rios’s memories weren’t as vivid. He heard a loud yell, he testified. He heard a voice say something to the effect of “What’s going on? Why won’t you tell me?” Then he heard a second, softer voice.

“All I heard was kind of like crying and muffled,” Rios said.

Under questioning from prosecutor Marybeth Ayres, Rios said a store security guard was wearing headphones. “He was inattentive to the situation,” Rios said.

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post?s local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.
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