- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2011

Jury selection began Monday in the murder trial of Brittany Norwood, the woman accused of fatally beating a co-worker - and then attempting to cover up the crime - at the Lululemon yoga boutique in Bethesda.

Among the first round of potential jurors, only a handful said they had not heard about the killing, which was highly publicized when it happened in March in large part due to the brutal nature of the attack and the twists and turns of the subsequent investigation.

When Circuit Judge Robert Greenburg asked 150 potential jurors if they had any prior knowledge of the case, nearly the entire pool of potential jurors rose from their seats on hard wooden benches to acknowledge they had. Only 18 people said they were unfamiliar with the killing.

Miss Norwood, 29, is charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Lululemon store manager Jayna Murray, 30. Murray was found in the back of the upscale Bethesda Row store bludgeoned so severely that her spinal cord was severed. Miss Norwood was found tied up in the store’s bathroom.

Initially, Miss Norwood told police that she and Murray were robbed and sexually assaulted by two masked men after they closed the store. But investigators think she and Murray got into a fight over allegations Miss Norwood stole from the store. An altercation turned deadly, culminating in Miss Norwood staging the crime scene, prosecutors say. Days later, Miss Norwood was charged with the killing when crime-scene evidence and other information failed to substantiate her story.

Monday, while arguing motions over whether to allow crime-scene and autopsy photos as part of the prosecution’s opening statements, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said at least eight different weapons were used against Murray, many leaving distinctive marks.

“There are knife wounds, hammer marks to the top of her head,” Mr. McCarthy said. “The number of blows is imperative for premeditation. The fact she is rearming herself with multiple weapons goes to the length of the attack.”

The defense argued that using the photos so early in the trial would create unfair bias against Miss Norwood.

“They can certainly describe that orally without having to use these very graphic pictures,” defense attorney Douglas Wood said.

Judge Greenburg said he would rule on the use of the photos Tuesday.

Throughout the morning session of jury selection at the Circuit Court in Rockville, Miss Norwood, who wore a beige sweater over black pants and her hair pulled back into a bun, remained mostly obscured from jurors’ view by the two defense attorneys who sat by her side, Mr. Wood and Christopher Griffiths.

As Judge Greenburg asked questions, Miss Norwood stood once to identify herself to potential jurors, and several near the back craned their necks to see her.

Despite familiarity with the case, Mr. Wood said the defense had not requested a change of venue for the trial.

“It wouldn’t have given us much benefit,” he said, acknowledging cases are typically moved from Montgomery County to nearby Frederick County, a more conservative area.

Jury selection is expected to last through Tuesday when another panel of 150 people will be considered.

Opening arguments in the case are not expected until at least Wednesday morning, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s office said.

While several people have already been excused from selection, the bulk of potential jurors remained in the courtroom Monday afternoon answering questions about any potential bias or connections with witnesses, law enforcement or medical experts they may have.

Thirty-nine potential jurors said they had already formed an opinion about Miss Norwood’s guilt or innocence based on what they have heard about the case. Another 16 people said they’ve been to the Bethesda Row store where the homicide occurred. And nearly half the room stood when asked whether they are in or have any close relations with someone in the legal profession.

“Welcome to Montgomery County,” joked Judge Greenburg.

After the panel of 12 jurors and five alternates is chosen, the trial itself is expected to last eight to 10 days.

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