A woman charged with killing a co-worker at an upscale yoga clothing shop in Montgomery County spoke willingly to police multiple times, and nearly everything she said to investigators before being taken into custody can be used at her upcoming trial, a judge ruled Friday.
The judge rejected defense efforts to suppress statements made by Brittany Norwood in the days after co-worker Jayna Murray was found dead inside the Lululemon Athletica shop in Bethesda in March. The defense lawyers argued the statements were not taken voluntarily since they said Miss Norwood was effectively in police custody during the interviews, was identified early on as a primary suspect and should have been advised of her constitutional right to remain silent much earlier than she was.
They argued Friday that detectives knew or should have known from the outset that Miss Norwood was their primary suspect. They said workers at the next-door Apple shop had reported hearing two women loudly arguing — but no male voices — and that detectives should have been more curious about why Miss Norwood had only superficial wounds while Murray was covered with blood and bludgeoned to death.
But police and prosecutors said Miss Norwood, who was found tied up inside the store and claimed to have been attacked along with Murray, was initially treated as a victim — not a suspect — and could have refused to answer questions at any time. They said she did not need to be read her Miranda rights since she was not in custody and was free to leave until the moment she was arrested.
She spoke with police five times — twice at the hospital, once at her home, and twice more at Montgomery County police headquarters — in the six days between the discovery of Murray’s body and her arrest. Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg allowed the statements to be used at trial, with the exception of a short snippet at police headquarters on the day of her arrest that he said appeared to have been taken involuntarily.
“This woman is a woman of, frankly, striking intelligence and lucidity,” Judge Greenberg said.
The judge said he understood that it took some time to develop Miss Norwood as a suspect, but also appeared to suggest that the detectives could have collaborated better.
“Hindsight is 20/20,” he said. “What we learned here today us that not every police officer investigating this case knew everything that was going on,” he said.
Police said they didn’t decide to arrest Miss Norwood, 29, until nearly a week later, as her story continued falling apart and after she was recorded on a closed-circuit camera inside police headquarters telling her brother that she didn’t want to disappoint him.
He said her brother asked her whether her fight with Murray had involved theft. Authorities say the women argued inside the store after Murray checked Miss Norwood’s bag on suspicion that she was stealing merchandise from the store.
“She kept repeating that she hadn’t taken anything, that she was doing good,” Mr. Drewry said.
Miss Norwood’s trial is scheduled for Oct. 24. Prosecutors say they’ll seek a sentence of life without parole if Miss Norwood is convicted of first-degree murder. Miss Norwood’s attorneys have signaled a possible insanity defense.
The killing along a heavily trafficked commercial corridor rattled residents and merchants of Bethesda, an affluent community northwest of the District where violent crime is rare, with allegations by Miss Norwood that two masked men had entered the store and attacked her and Murray. But police say it was all an elaborate ruse that took days to unravel: Miss Norwood claimed to have been sexually assaulted, but authorities say that was a lie, and that she staged the attack by tying up her own hands and feet and cutting herself.
Detectives said they chased down leads, even securing a search warrant for a panhandler who frequented the area and had a reputation for being aggressive with women. Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger held a news conference asking for tips and leads about two possible suspects. Even as her story continued to unravel, police said, she was not taken into custody and was even permitted to walk unaccompanied to a restroom at police headquarters, detectives said.