Jayna Murray was alive when she suffered most of the 322 cuts and blows inflicted on her head and body during a brutal attack at the Bethesda Lululemon Athletica store in March, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Opening arguments in the first-degree murder trial of Brittany Norwood, charged in the horrific killing of her co-worker, provided the most dramatic account yet of a crime that shocked the region for its viciousness and for the twists and turns of an investigation that ultimately revealed a morbidly staged crime scene. They also offered the first indications of how attorneys for the 29-year-old woman accused in the killing plan to defend her.
Holding the bloody rope found around the slain woman’s neck and a merchandise display rod used to bash her skull, State’s Attorney John McCarthy said a blood trail shows how the 30-year-old victim tried unsuccessfully to escape her attacker through a back door. The 107 defensive wounds, caused when Murray tried to fend off the attack, were the most the medical examiner had ever seen on one person, Mr. McCarthy said.
“Think about how long this took. Jayna is alive through almost all of this,” Mr. McCarthy said, describing how eight separate items found in the upscale yoga-inspired apparel store were used as weapons. “The last wounds are from the knives. This was not slow. This was not painless. This woman struggled to survive.”
While attorneys for Miss Norwood hinted in the months before the trial that they might pursue an insanity defense, attorney Douglas Wood acknowledged in his opening statement that his client had attacked Murray — but that she had not planned to kill her.
“Jayna was killed by Brittany, but not with premeditation,” Mr. Wood said. “During that fight, Brittany Norwood lost it — there is no doubt about that. She lost control.”
The distinction aims to undercut the argument of prosecutors, who must prove that the attack was premeditated to win a first-degree murder conviction instead of a lesser second-degree murder conviction. Prosecutors have said they will seek life without parole if Miss Norwood is convicted of first-degree murder.
Mr. McCarthy said that on March 11, the night of the killing, the women closed the store together but that Miss Norwood lured Murray back and the deadly attack ensued inside the store. He said an employee at a neighboring Apple Store overheard two women yelling, and one screaming, “Oh God, please help me.”
Prosecutors have suggested the motive for the killing could have come earlier in the day, when Murray found what she thought to be stolen merchandise in Miss Norwood’s bag.
The next morning, when an employee opened the store, Miss Norwood was found bound and bloodied in a bathroom, and Murray dead, lying in a pool of blood in a back room. Miss Norwood appeared “traumatized,” had a slit cut in the crotch of her pants and never opened her eyes or spoke with the first officers to arrive on the scene, Montgomery County Police Officer Christin Knuth testified.
“I squatted down beside her and touched her arm and she flinched,” Officer Knuth said.
Miss Norwood initially told police that she and Murray were attacked by two men who entered the store after closing.
In his opening statement, Mr. McCarthy dissected the story that Miss Norwood has admitted contriving in order to cover her tracks. She initially said the attackers sexually assaulted her by using a wooden clothes hanger. Mr. McCarthy contrasted the claim with what investigators later learned - that using men’s shoes from the store she created footprints in Murray’s blood, and she moved Murray’s car from where it was double parked outside the store to give her 10 hours to doctor the crime scene.
“Ask yourself, what do the succession of lies tell you about the cunning and guile of this woman?” Mr. McCarthy said to the jurors.
Mr. Wood said Miss Norwood’s actions were those of a woman who found herself in a frightening position.
“They show someone who got involved in a nightmarish situation and had this imagination and explanation of what happened,” Mr. Wood said. “This is not first-degree, premeditated, willful murder.”
Miss Norwood was arrested a week after the crime, after investigators uncovered inconsistencies in her story.
The families of both women were present in the Rockville courtroom, sitting in rows across the aisle from each other. Murray’s family wore buttons with a picture of her, but they were ordered to remove the buttons by Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert A. Greenberg.
Miss Norwood, who wore a gray sweater over a white shirt with a ruffled collar, sat passively through the day’s proceedings. She kept her gaze either straight ahead or down at the table before her, even as an image of Murray’s gash-covered head was flashed before the court on a projector, eliciting audible gasps from the dozens of people in the courtroom.
In addition to the first officer to arrive at Lululemon, the jury of six men and six women also heard testimony from the store’s manager and a passer-by who entered the store with the frightened manager the morning of March 12 and found Murray’s body.
Store manager Rachel Oertli explained the layout of the store and testified that the items used as weapons against Murray could generally be found in the back portion of the store, though not all in the narrow hallway where Murray’s body was found.