This post has been updated.
Brittany Norwood, accused of killing a co-worker inside a Bethesda yoga store, appeared in court Friday. New details were revealed at that hearing about how detectives questioned her, and identified her as a murder suspect:
The interviews began on March 12 at Suburban Hospital. Earlier that morning, Norwood, 29, had been found inside the Lululemon Athletica store on the floor of a bathroom. She was moaning, cut and bound by zip-ties. (Police now say she injured herself and tied herself up to stage the crime scene.)
Montgomery County Police Detective Deana Mackie was asked in court about an audio recording of the interview, one that Judge Robert A. Greenberg had listened to. Who was sniffling?
“At times it’s me. At times it’s Ms. Norwood,” Mackie said.
Mackie recalled what Norwood had told her: Two masked men slipped into the store after closing time. One of them attacked Norwood’s co-worker, Jayna Murray, in the back of the store. Norwood said she could hear Murray being hit, but the sounds grew faint. Norwood also said that the other masked man attacked and raped her in a different part of the store, at one point using a clothes hanger during the sexual assault and calling her a “dirty whore.”
The hearing was called because Norwood’s attorneys, who have said they likely would present a so-called insanity defense, wanted a judge to toss out five interviews Norwood had with detectives. They argued that detectives surely would have been suspicious of Norwood early in the case, and that those suspicions translated to detectives questioning Norwood in a manner that violated her rights. Greenberg rejected most of their requests.
During the hearing, defense attorney Douglas Wood asked Mackie why she wasn’t more suspicious of Norwood’s initial account. What about the way she was tied up, Wood asked, indicating that Norwood was free to move her arms and could have untied her feet.
“Didn’t you wonder about that at all?” Wood asked.
“I took what she told me as what happened,” Mackie explained. “She was a victim to me.”
And for that reason, Mackie had tried to be reassuring. “It’s not your fault,” she told Norwood, according to prosecutors accounts filed with the court. “You’ve been through a lot, you’re doing a great job.”
Norwood did not testify or speak at Friday’s hearing. She wore a tan prison jumpsuit, took copious notes, and occasionally whispered to one of her lawyers.
Detective Dimitry Ruvin, who spoke to Norwood on March 14, 16 and 18, said that Norwood said the attackers showed her Murray’s bloody body. Norwood said one of the masked men told her she had been spared because she was fun to have sex with, Ruvin said.
“She was emotional,” the detective said.
By the fifth day after the attack, detectives were starting to review forensic evidence and at least one key witness account which led them to doubt her story. An employee in the next-door Apple Store had told detectives he heard the voices of two women fighting, but no men’s voices.
Wood, the defense attorney, seized on this, reading from the witness's statement and repeating how the Apple employee described the female voices: “One of them was screaming bloody murder.”
Detective James Drewry testified that by March 16, he had locked in on Norwood as a prime suspect in the case. He arranged for Norwood to come to police headquarters to provide fingerprints, letting her know that he needed them so that detectives could distinguish her prints from those possibly left by the masked men.
“That was a ruse for her,” admitted Drewry, a longtime homicide detective who has been with the police department’s major crimes unit for 23 years.
Norwood arrived and provided fingerprints and hair samples, giving Drewry and Ruvin a chance to speak to her again – for 67 minutes.
Drewry caught Norwood over her assertion she had never been inside Murray’s car, according to prosecutors. (At the time, police were in the process of analyzing blood found in Murray’s car, which matched Norwood’s blood, according to prosecutors.)
On March 17, Norwood’s sister, Marissa Norwood, called Drewry and told him that Norwood had more to say, according to prosecutors. Norwood returned to police headquarters on March 18.
Norwood told Drewry that she had been in Murray’s car because the masked men made her go out and move it. Norwood said she returned to the store that night, even though she saw a police officer and two other people while moving the car but did not ask them for help, police have previously said.
At one point, Drewry told Norwood to speak up because he was hard of hearing. Wood, the defense attorney, asked Drewry on Friday about his hearing. Drewry said he hears fine, but he wanted Norwood to speak loudly enough for the recording system, which Norwood was not told about, to pick up what she was saying.
His conduct falls within the bounds of legally acceptable investigation techniques, according to criminal experts. Greenberg, the judge, even interjected on Friday that when he watched the video and audio recordings, Drewry’s claim of poor hearing seemed real to him.
“You had me convinced you were hard of hearing,” Greenberg told Drewry.
“Oh he’s good, your honor,” Wood said. “No question about it.”
In a back-and-forth between Wood and Drewry, Wood pushed him on why he asked Norwood to go through the story again. Drewry told him of a mantra among detectives:
“There’s a saying, OK: ‘Lie to me. Please lie to me.’ Sometimes a provable lie is just as good as the truth.”
Another element to the case: Just before the murder, Murray had apparently confronted Norwood about whether she was trying to steal store merchandize.
Drewry pressed her on the 18th, hoping for a confession.
“I want to go home,” she told Drewry.
“Why don’t you tell us what happened, then you can go home,” the detective responded.
It was at that point that he should have told her that it was her right to remain silent and consult an attorney, Greenberg, the judge, said Friday. He ruled that prosecutors would not be able to show that portion of the interview to jurors as part of how they present their case, but prosecutors apparently could use it if they were to cross-examine Norwood.
Also on March 18, at police headquarters, Drewry allowed Norwood’s sister Marissa and brother Chris into the interview room and, in front of Norwood, told them why he thought she killed Murray. Drewry showed them photos of Norwood’s injuries that he considered to be self-inflicted. Marissa Norwood had to leave because she became so emotional, Drewry said.
Chris Norwood asked if he could speak to his sister alone. Drewry said yes, acknowledging in court on Friday how that gave him a chance to eavesdrop on their conversation from another room. He and other detectives did just that.
“Should I ask if you did this or not?” Chris Norwood asked his sister, according to police.
Brittany Norwood said she didn’t want to talk about it right there, according to police.
“At one point she said that she was sorry, that she didn’t want to disappoint Chris like she had disappointed everyone else,” Drewry recalled. “She kept repeating that she hadn’t stolen anything, that she was doing good.”
It is unclear if prosecutors will present this exchange to a jury.
At the conclusion of Friday’s hearing, Greenberg said it was appropriate for detectives to initially treat Norwood as a victim. He said that Mackie’s attitude toward Norwood in the hospital “was, frankly, everything you hope” for.
And he said that while Drewry identified Norwood as a suspect by March 16, he was not yet required to advise her of her rights. What mattered, the judge said, was that Norwood still thought she had the detectives duped, and that a person in her position would have felt she was free to leave.