For five days, the detective let Brittany Norwood say whatever she wanted. Whether it was true didn’t really matter.
“There’s a saying,” the 61-year-old investigator explained in court in September. “ ‘Lie to me, please, lie to me.’ Sometimes, a provable lie is just as good as the truth.”
Montgomery County prosecutors say the 29-year-old Norwood told one lie after another to Detective Jim Drewry, fabrications that go to the heart of a dramatic case they are set to present to jurors next week. Norwood, they say, hacked and pummeled a co-worker to death inside the Lululemon Athletica yoga store in downtown Bethesda in March. She tried to cover her tracks, they say, by cutting herself, tying herself up, lying down in a pool of blood on a restroom floor, waiting for police to arrive and saying it was all the work of two masked men.
She eventually encountered Drewry, heading up his final case after two decades with Montgomery’s homicide unit. His style evolved over time from confrontational to a more gentle approach known for getting suspects to do the last thing they should be doing: talking.
“Who wouldn’t speak with him?” said defense lawyer Andy Jezic. “He’s like a shrink, a priest and your trusting uncle all rolled into one.”
Drewry holds a mystique among Montgomery officers, who rattle off the high-profile murders he has worked. He interviewed Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammad, among others. In 1995, he locked up a murder suspect, eight years before doing the same thing to the man’s son.
In his 23 years on the homicide squad, he came to view interviews as an attempt to peel back layers of an onion. On the outside were the lies — valuable in and of themselves. Further in, layers of half-truths, also valuable. At the core was the golden ring: a full confession.
“The main thing in this job is knowing how to talk to people, knowing how to listen to people,” he said. “If you can get them talking, you have a fighting chance.”
Drewry also found that by not changing his expression, and often by not saying anything at all, suspects often felt that they needed to fill in the pregnant pause — by saying more.
Take the case of Raymond Williams. When the handyman became a suspect in the fatal stabbing of artist Azin Naimi in her studio off Rockville Pike, Drewry and another detective, Dimitry Ruvin, brought him in for questioning.
Williams recognized Drewry from an old case.
“I think we met before,” Williams said.
“You helped us out a whole lot on that case. Maybe you can help us clean up a whole lot on this,” Drewry said.
At first, Williams refused to talk, but eventually he turned to face Drewry, who sat at the opposite end of a four-foot table.
“I owe you this much. I really do,” Williams said.
“I’m listening, man, and I appreciate it,” Drewry responded, stone-faced, legs crossed, legal pad on table and setting off a series of 10-second silent pauses.
Williams finally admitted that he was inside the art studio that night.
“You can do this,” Drewry said.
Williams asked the detective if his “girl” would be all right and asked Drewry to pass along condolences to the victim’s family.
The two kept talking.
Then more silence.
“I killed her,” Williams said.
“How did you kill her?”
“I think I stabbed her with some scissors.”
The confession went on: Williams said he wrapped Naimi’s body in a blanket, mopped up the crime scene and drove to the District, where he left the body in an alley.
This month, Williams was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. Drewry sat in the back row, watching as deputies led him to jail.
Drewry grew up in the Cleveland area, the son of a funeral director and a teacher. He made his way to Howard University but dropped out after a year. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for nearly 10 years, delivering mail in Chevy Chase and Bethesda. His father and father-in-law suggested law enforcement, and Drewry took a position with the first agency to offer him a slot in its academy, in 1979.
It wasn’t the easiest time to be an African American officer in Montgomery. Drewry was assigned to patrol the Wheaton area, where he faced longtime residents who resented minorities, particularly those wearing a badge. The police department was hardly a haven: In a locker room in a district station, Drewry overheard racist jokes and the N-word.
He eventually took a plainclothes job doing surveillance, using it as a steppingstone to detective work.
As Drewry found early on, sometimes a lie can be as key to a conviction as a confession. One of the first killers he set out to find was the one who stabbed Shannon Anne McMillan 28 times in her apartment in 1987. Forensic clues cast suspicion on neighbor Arnold Jason Williams, an active-duty Marine with an unblemished military record and no criminal history.
Drewry “was very quick on the uptake, that’s what I remember about him,” said Billy Campbell, a fellow detective at the time. Drewry learned not to change expressions during questioning, much like a good poker player doesn’t give off what’s known as a “tell” to other players.
“Jimmy didn’t have a tell,” Campbell recalled.
Williams began talking and said that the last time he was in McMillan’s apartment was on Sept. 14, 1987. That contradicted the evidence: Williams’s thumbprint was found on a Sept. 25, 1987, newspaper in the apartment. He later pleaded guilty to murder.
After 23 years of unpredictable hours working active homicides, the gray-haired Drewry, known for his sweater vests and wire-rimmed glasses, recently decided to scale back and spend two years on the department’s cold-case squad, with plans to then retire. But on the morning of March 12, he was called to the final homicide scene he’d visit as as a member of the homicide section: the Lululemon Athletica store in downtown Bethesda.
Drewry declined to discuss the Norwood case. His remarks about Norwood are taken from court testimony and charging documents.
Thirty-year-old Jayna Murray had been found dead in the store, blood around her. The first officers on the scene found her co-worker, Norwood, alive in a restroom but bloodied and moaning. That day, Norwood told police that two masked men had slipped into the store and attacked and raped both of them.
On the night of March 14, according to court hearings in the case, Drewry and his partner on the case, Ruvin, paid a visit to Norwood at her home in the District. In their minds, she was a victim, and the three had a relaxed conversation about the masked men.
But back in the homicide unit, forensic evidence that didn’t square with Norwood’s story started coming in. Detectives asked Norwood to come to the station to provide fingerprints, letting her know that police needed them to distinguish her prints from those possibly left by the masked men.
“That was a ruse for her,” Drewry said from the witnesses stand last month.
Norwood arrived and provided fingerprints and hair samples, giving Drewry and Ruvin a chance to speak to her again.
By then, Drewry knew that forensic technicians had found blood in Murray’s car. If DNA tests matched the blood to Norwood, Drewry wanted to have Norwood caught in a lie — in this case, that she’d never been in Murray’s car.
“I didn’t want to tip my hand to her as far as why I was asking about the car,” Drewry said in court. “I tried to do it as inadvertently as possible.”
Prosecutors have said blood in the car ultimately matched Norwood’s.
During a subsequent interview with Norwood, captured on video, Drewry told Norwood to speak up because he didn’t hear very well. Douglas Wood, a defense attorney for Norwood, asked Drewry in court about his hearing.
Drewry said he hears fine but wanted Norwood to speak loudly enough for the recording system, which Norwood was not told about.
His conduct fell within the bounds of acceptable investigation techniques, according to criminal experts. Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg, presiding over the proceeding, interjected from the bench that he genuinely thought Drewry was hard of hearing when he watched the interrogation video.
“You had me convinced,” Greenberg told Drewry.
“Oh, he’s good, your honor,” Wood said. “No question about it.”