Lululemon trial jurors hear Norwood account

October 27, 2011

Just hours after she was found bound and bloody, Brittany Norwood spoke to a detective from a hospital bed.

“Can you tell me how my friend is doing?” she asked in a soft, caring voice.

The detective, Deana Mackie, said she didn’t know. It was so early in the case, Mackie said, that she’d come directly to the hospital while other detectives were inside the Lululemon Athletica store in downtown Bethesda, trying to figure out what had happened the night before.

“I know that you’ve been through a lot,” Mackie said. “I came here to kind of figure out what’s going on.”

Norwood then launched into a stunning account: Two masked men, one pummeling co-worker Jayna Murray, the other tying Norwood up, raping her and leaving her bound in a restroom for 10 hours.

“She just was so innocent,” Norwood said of Murray, crying.

“I’ve never seen so much blood,” she said.

Norwood’s words, captured on audio, were played for jurors Thursday in the second day of her murder trial in Montgomery County Circuit Court. Prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that there were no masked men, no rapes, no one in the store that March night but the two women. That Norwood killed Murray is not disputed.

What jurors must decide is whether Norwood acted in a premeditated fashion, as prosecutors say, or whether she “lost it,” as her attorneys say, and never marshaled the intent required for a first-degree-murder conviction — and ultimately should face a shorter prison stay. At the center of the case is the horrible way Murray died: At least 322 wounds, prosecutors say, leaving forensic patterns that indicate Norwood was grabbing tool after tool from the store to continue her attack — hammer, wrench, rope, knife, a metal peg used to hold up a mannequin.

Then there are the lies Norwood told detectives, the detailed coverup and what, if anything, they say about her frame of mind.

Prosecutors say they show the cunning and guile of a killer who knew what she was doing. Defense attorneys say the lies should be seen in the context of their absurdity: an illustration of just how out of control Norwood was.

The lies to Mackie began just before 10:30 a.m. March 12.

That Saturday, a Lululemon manager arrived, saw signs of disarray and called police. Officers found Murray dead and Norwood moaning on the restroom floor.

“Do I have to talk right now?” Norwood asked Mackie.

No, Mackie said, adding that detectives were trying to find the people who did this.

“If you want to, you can just ask some questions,” Norwood said.

Norwood told Mackie that she and Murray left the store about 9:45 the previous night.

Norwood said she walked to the Metro station but realized she’d left her wallet behind. She called Murray, who had a key to the store. The two went inside, walked to the back but couldn’t find the wallet, then started walking to the front of the store.

Norwood began weaving her false tale of an attack by strangers. A man appeared and hit Murray in the face, she said. Norwood said that she tried to break for the door, but that two men threw her to the ground and one grabbed her.

“He had me by the hair, told me if I said another word he would slit my throat,” Norwood said in the recording. “And Jayna kept yelling and fighting, and he just kept hitting her. And I think he dragged her to the bathroom, and, like, she was still trying to fight with him, but, and then I just heard like something break.”

In the second row of the small courtroom sat the families of both women, separated by a narrow aisle. For two days, Murray’s parents have heard details about their daughter’s death, Norwood’s about how their daughter did it.

At the front of the courtroom sat Norwood, looking down and expressionless for much of the day. At least once she took notes. More often, her eyes were closed. She wore a gray jacket and a bronze-colored blouse.

The audio of her coverup continued. Norwood said she blacked out, couldn’t remember all the details and thought she was the one to blame.

“It was my fault because I left my wallet,” Norwood said.

“It’s not your fault,” Mackie said.

Continuing the lies, Norwood described making her way toward the back of the store. “I remember trying to help her. . . . I tried to, like, help Jayna.”

But one of the men got control over Norwood, she said. He used plastic zip ties to bind her knees and arms and cut her pants. The man sounded white and used a racial slur.

Her memories of the fictitious attacks were scattered.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know,” she told Mackie at one point.

“No, it’s fine. It’s fine, really. I know you’ve been through a lot,” Mackie said.

“This doesn’t make sense,” Norwood said.

One of Norwood’s attorneys, Douglas Wood, homed in on that point in his cross-examination of Mackie. Wood hopes the sheer outrageousness of the lies will convince jurors that Norwood was not thinking clearly.

Wood noted that Norwood admitted an odd detail: Although her hands were bound together and placed over her head, they weren’t tied to anything. Norwood simply could have lowered them.

Wood pointed out that Mackie never asked Norwood why she didn’t untie her feet and free herself.

He tried to get jurors to lock in on other strange details about Norwood’s coverup: She wasn’t sure about the race of the men, even though they had eyeholes in their masks and one of them supposedly raped her. “Must have struck you as odd?” Wood said.

Police repeatedly said Norwood was treated like a victim for several days. She had holes in her story, police said, but trauma victims often do.

Montgomery prosecutor Marybeth Ayres asked Mackie, “Were you suspicious at all of the defendant at that time?”

Mackie had a one-word answer: “No.”

Post staff writer Dan Morse covers courts and crime in Montgomery County, Md.
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