- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2011

A woman accused of killing a co-worker at a Bethesda yoga clothing boutique inflicted “shocking” and “catastrophic” injuries on the victim, severing her spinal cord and crushing her skull with blows “too numerous to count,” Montgomery County’s top prosecutor said in court Monday.

Montgomery County District Court Judge Gary G. Everngam ordered Brittany Norwood, 27, held without bond after State’s Attorney John McCarthy addressed in unusual detail the severity of the March 11 killing at the Lululemon store on Bethesda Row.

The routine hearing to review and set bail drew a packed courtroom to witness Ms. Norwood’s first appearance since her arrest Friday in connection with the killing, which shocked and horrified residents of the upscale community better known for its tony shops and restaurants.

Ms. Norwood appeared by closed-circuit television from the county jail facility in Clarksburg in a green jail-issued jumpsuit and gave just one- or two-word answers.

At one point during the 30-minute hearing, Mr. McCarthy handed several photos to the judge that were said to show Jayna Murray’s injuries and how her pants had been cut to simulate a sexual assault.

“I want the court to be aware of the level of violence,” he said.

He noted that there was a ligature around Ms. Murray’s neck and said Ms. Norwood did not appear to have brought the weapons used in her violent assault into the store with her.

“The instruments all came from inside the store itself,” he said.

Mr. McCarthy then contrasted the few superficial injuries to Ms. Norwood that he said were consistent with self-inflicted injuries.

He elaborated on a theory that the motive for the killing was that Ms. Murray reported items in Ms. Norwood’s bag that were suspected to be stolen. He said the store manager indicated that they would deal with the situation the next day.

Court papers say that on the night of the incident, Ms. Norwood called Ms. Murray back to the store to reopen it so she could retrieve her wallet, which she said she had left inside. She originally told detectives that she and Ms. Murray were then attacked and raped by two masked men.

Her story quickly began to unravel as a result of DNA evidence and Ms. Norwood’s account to police that didn’t match other evidence, according to court documents.

Mr. McCarthy said police interviewed Ms. Norwood several times, initially considering her a sympathetic victim, before making the arrest when her story started to change.

“Her cunning and ability to lie is almost unparalleled,” Mr. McCarthy said in court.

Forming a timeline of the crime, Mr. McCarthy said Ms. Norwood apparently remained in the store from about 10 p.m. on March 11 until the next morning, when a store employee arrived to find the doors unlocked. The employee then saw signs of disarray and heard “moaning coming from the back of the store.”

Police were called and found Ms. Norwood lying on the bathroom floor with her hands and feet bound by zip ties. Ms. Norwood told police that one assailant tried to steal money while the other attacked Ms. Murray, then her.

But Mr. McCarthy said investigators found a box of ties that Ms. Norwood apparently used to bind her feet and then her hands, pulling the ties tight with her teeth.

He said police also found two sets of footprints in blood inside the crime scene, determined to belong to Ms. Norwood, and a pair of size 14 shoes that are kept in the store to fit customers for athletic pants, according to court documents.

Mr. McCarthy said Ms. Norwood tracked the shoes through the blood, cleaned them and put them back on the shelf. They still had some blood on the bottom, “despite her best efforts,” he said.

Among the other inconsistencies in her story, Ms. Norwood told police that the assailants let her leave the Wisconsin Avenue store to move Ms. Murray’s car but ordered her to return in 10 minutes or they would kill her, according to the court records.

Mr. McCarthy said a county police officer saw a person sitting in the vehicle for about 1½ hours that night. That person, the prosecutor said, was Ms. Norwood, “trying to decide what to do.”

In addition, crime-scene photos suggested that Ms. Norwood had posed herself in the bathroom, her injuries were inconsistent with the brutal attack, and an examination of Ms. Murray’s body found she had not been raped, according to court documents.

She did not appear to react to Mr. McCarthy’s statements.

Her public defender, Alan Drew, said Ms. Norwood is entitled to a reasonable bail, noting that she has three sisters, a brother and a brother-in-law in the area.

“We’re not going to try the case here today,” he said. It was unclear whether Ms. Norwood had any family or friends in the courtroom.

Mr. Drew did not address the bevy of reporters and TV cameras gathered in front of the courthouse.

Ms. Norwood’s next court date is April 15. Mr. McCarthy said his office expects to present the case to a grand jury before that date. If indicted and convicted, Ms. Norwood faces up to life in prison on the charge of first-degree murder.