A chilling portrait of killing in yoga store

Level of violence 'shocking,' prosecutor says

March 22, 2011|By Dan Morse and Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post

For 90 minutes, authorities say, Brittany Norwood sat inside her victim's parked car, concocting a plan to cover up the crime scene she had just created inside the yoga store where they both worked.

Her colleague, Jayna Murray, lay dead, killed by items that Norwood took from a tool box inside Bethesda's Lululemon Athletica shop, prosecutors said. There was something tied around Murray's neck. There was blood everywhere.

The plan that Norwood formed — as detailed in court Monday by Montgomery County's top prosecutor — involved planted evidence, phony injuries and a series of fabrications told by the hundreds.

"Her cunning and her ability to lie is almost unparalleled," John McCarthy told District Judge Gary Everngam, arguing that Norwood, 28, should be held without bail until her trial.

McCarthy said the attack inside the store occurred after closing on March 11, just a short time after Murray had discovered stolen store merchandise inside Norwood's bag. Norwood bludgeoned Murray for as long as 20 minutes, and struck so many blows in the same spots on her body that it was impossible to determine the exact number of wounds, the prosecutor said.

"The nature of this crime is shocking in terms of the level of violence," McCarthy told the judge. "The majority of the blows were directed at her head. Her skull was crushed during the attack."

Everngam agreed to hold Norwood without bond. No trial date has been set.

Making her first appearance, Norwood was shown through a video feed from the jail. She said her name, answered "yes" when Everngam asked if she'd read the charges against her, and said nothing else. For 15 minutes, she stood expressionless, her arms folded across a lectern-like stand in front of her.

A review of public records Monday turned up no criminal past for Norwood. McCarthy said he also was unaware of one. Friends of the suspect said the alleged violence stunned them.

But law enforcement officials said they have heard from past acquaintances of Norwood that she had a reputation as a thief.

Two friends from Stony Brook University, where Norwood studied sociology and played soccer, said the same thing in interviews.

"She was my best friend in college. We had a falling out because the girl was like a klepto'," said Leanna Yust, a former soccer teammate of Norwood's.

Yust said that Norwood stole money and a Versace shirt from her.

Both classmates said Norwood also could be fun to hang out with. "She could be so sweet, so funny. Amazing soccer player," Yust said.

Norwood attended the university's College of Arts and Science from 2000 to 2004, but didn't gain a degree, a school spokeswoman said.

In the Washington area, she worked at the Willard InterContinental Hotel, and a Lululemon Athletic store in the District, according to sources with knowledge of the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Norwood transferred to the Bethesda Lululemon store recently, said the sources.

On March 11, Murray checked Norwood's bag, and found merchandise that appeared to be stolen from the store, which sells yoga and sports attire, according to authorities.

Both Murray and Norwood left the Lululemon store at 9:45 p.m., police said. About six minutes later, Murray called a manager and told her about the bag check, McCarthy said in court. A short time later, Norwood called Murray, said she had left her wallet in the store, and that she needed Murray to let her in.

The two re-entered the store at 10:05 p.m. At 10:30 p.m., employees at the adjacent Apple store heard two women yelling at each other, McCarthy said. It is unclear what tools Norwood is alleged to have used, but police have said she stabbed and beat Murray. Some of the wounds went from one side of her neck to the other, McCarthy said. Her spinal cord was severed.

Norwood soon left the store to move Murray's car — it might have been parked in an illegal spot because Murray thought she'd be in the store only briefly.

So Norwood drove the car three blocks to a lot adjacent to a farmer's market. There, she was "sitting in the car for an hour and a half trying to decide what to do," McCarthy said.

Norwood's conclusion: Walk back to Lululemon to create the illusion that two men, wearing masks, had slipped into the store and attacked both women, authorities said.

Norwood cut a hole in Murray's pants to make it look like she was the victim of a sexual assault. She created shoe prints by donning men's shoes from inside the store — sized 14 — and walking through the blood, police said. She inflicted injuries on herself, grabbed zipties from the store, and bound her feet and hands, using her teeth to synch the ties, McCarthy said.

The next morning, when police came to the store, she was waiting — bound up in a bathroom — and proceeded to tell her tale.

McCarthy said Murray's blood and Norwood's blood were found on a door handle, gear shift and steering wheel of Murray's car.

Norwood was represented during the bond hearing by Alan Drew, a lawyer from the county's public defender's office. He declined to comment after the hearing.

Some of Norwood's family members came to Montgomery County police headquarters on Friday when authorities said that Norwood's story fell apart. Detective James Drewry let at least one of the family members alone in an interview room.

Why did you fight with the girl, she was asked, according to McCarthy.

"I don't know," Norwood said.

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