Heather Barron, left, and Jayna Murray. (Courtesy Heather Barron)

Heather Barron’s best friend was Jayna Murray.

This Friday, Brittany Norwood will be sentenced for first degree murder in Murray’s killing. Norwood used just about every blunt object she could find in the Bethesda store to kill Jayna — a hammer, a heavy merchandise peg, knives. She struck Jayna more than 300 times. The pictures of Jayna’s tortured body, shown during the trial, are the most horrific images I have ever seen.

The judge in the case, Robert A. Greenberg, has a choice in Norwood’s sentencing: life in prison or life with a chance of parole. Prosecutors have argued that Norwood should have no chance of ever walking free. In making his decision, Greenberg can weigh the state’s arguments — that the murder was brutal and Norwood is a prolific liar and danger to the public — but he will also review victim’s impact statements that have poured in from across the country.

Barron, who grew up with Jayna near Houston, sent hers last month, and in it she displays none of the anger she says she feels every day toward Norwood. She doesn’t even urge Greenberg to level the harshest possible sentence. Instead, Barron used her letter to celebrate Jayna’s life and let the judge know what the world is missing. Barron was gracious enough to share her letter with me.

It opens: “Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would have to write a letter on behalf of my best friend, Jayna Troxel Murray, whose life was violently ripped away from her way too soon.”

(You can read the whole letter at the bottom of this post, along with another letter from Jayna’s friend Sheila Le Blanc).

Barron continues: “Jayna loved you for you and all that was a part of you. Jayna put her heart and soul into everything she did…athletics, dancing, education, work, traveling, friends and family. She has taught me so much about life, and I now live my life with the motto, ‘What Would Jayna Do’! I miss my friend everyday.”

I asked Barron, a kindergarten teacher, whether the letter was difficult to write. “It was hard not to let my anger come out,” she told me. “To hold that back was really hard. But I thought it was important to let the judge know what kind of friend she was to me.”

For inspiration, Barron looked at old pictures. She cried. She talked to her husband about what memories to share. And when she sat down to compose her thoughts, the words flowed beautifully. Reading her letter touched me deeply.

“I no longer have a best friend who I can call on the phone,” she wrote. “I no longer have a best friend to be excited about seeing when she comes home to Houston. I no longer have a best friend who I can share the joy of her wedding day with. I no longer have a best friend who I can see and welcome her children into the world. I no longer have a best friend who my son can really get to know and love. Jayna will forever be my best friend, and I know that I will get to see her again when she greets me in Heaven, but I want her back here.”

In court on Friday, Barron will be there with Jayna’s family. Her brothers and parents plan to read their victim’s impact statements in court. The trial was about what Norwood did to Jayna, and Barron hopes the sentencing is about Jayna — who she was, what has been lost. Her laugh. Her great big smile. Her future.


Here is Heather Barron’s full letter:

Here is another friend’s letter, by Sheila Le Blanc: