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Yoga store killer apologizes, but gets life without parole

ROCKVILLE — A woman convicted of killing her co-worker at an upscale yoga clothing shop in the Washington suburbs, then spinning an elaborate lie about being attacked by two masked men, has been ordered to spend the rest of her life behind bars.

Brittany Norwood choked back tears as she apologized to her family and that of her victim in her first public statements since her arrest in March. A jury in November convicted Norwood of first-degree murder for bludgeoning and stabbing 30-year-old Jayna Murray, a co-worker at the Lululemon Athletica shop in Bethesda. Murray had more than 330 distinct wounds.

The judge was unmoved by Norwood’s tears, telling the 29-year-old on Friday that her crime “exemplified the worst of human nature.” He stoutly rejected defense pleas that she was capable of rehabilitation and deserved an eventual shot at freedom.

“You mutilated this woman. And with every blow, you had a chance to think about what you were doing,” said Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg in imposing a sentence of life without the possibility parole.

The violent nature of the crime, and the initial accounts by Norwood of two murderers and rapists on the run, rattled the community.

Prosecutors said Norwood attacked Murray with at least five weapons, including a knife and a hammer, during a fight March 11 after they closed the shop for the day. They said Norwood lured Murray back to the store by falsely claiming that she has forgotten something inside and needed to be let back in. Norwood savagely beat Murray for at least 20 minutes and then doctored the scene overnight to support her story that intruders had attacked and sexually assaulted them.

Murray was found the next morning in a pool of blood at the back of the store. Her wounds included a knife strike to the head that served as the death blow. Norwood was found nearby, moaning in apparent pain and tied up, with superficial — and self-imposed — wounds on her body. Blood was found tracked throughout the store, something police later determined was part of Norwood’s attempt to throw them off her trail

The jury didn’t hear a motive for the killing, but prosecutor John McCarthy said Murray had confronted Norwood after finding a pair of stolen pants while checking her bag. Norwood feared the discovery would cause her to be fired and derail her planned career as a personal trainer.

“It was more than a pair of pants,” McCarthy said. “It was the unraveling of a life that she had set for herself.”

Norwood, wiping away tears and speaking softly as a row of family members sobbed, briefly apologized, saying “My hope for your family is that someday you’ll be able to find forgiveness in your heart.”

Norwood’s account of the attack set off panic in Bethesda, an affluent suburb where violent crime is rare. Montgomery County police went on a manhunt and fielded hundreds of tips. Some residents and shoppers who frequented the bustling corridor of high-end shops and trendy restaurants where Lululemon is situated admitted to feeling anxious at night.

“Businesses operated differently,” McCarthy said.

Norwood stared to the ground as eight of Murray’s friends and family detailed how their once joyful lives have become overcome with nightmares, anxiety, depression and feelings of emptiness. Her father, David Murray, showed the courtroom a series of photographs — his daughter as a smiling young girl, shooting a bow and arrow, bungee jumping, posing alongside a trophy and in her cap and gown. He said they illustrated his daughter’s zest for life and talents as a student, swimmer, dancer and gymnast.

“March 11, 2011, was our family’s Sept. 11, 2001,” Murray’s brother, Hugh, told the judge. “Nothing will ever return to normal. Nothing will ever be the same.”

Murray’s other brother, Dirk, said his two young sons adored their aunt but were starting to ask difficult questions about her death. When they go to bed at night, he said, the family doesn’t check the closets for an anonymous bogeyman. “We check for Brittany Norwood,” he said.

The family described how their initial empathy for Murray’s surviving co-worker turned — her father said he even contemplated sending Norwood flowers at the hospital — transformed into horror and rage when they learned that Norwood was the attacker, not the victim.

“Of the many stages of grief, I have not moved away from rage,” David Murray said.

Norwood’s tale unraveled within days as police identified her as their sole suspect. Workers at an adjacent Apple store told police that they heard two women — though they were castigated by the judge Friday for failing to call for help. Investigators found only two sets of footprints in the store. An examination did not back up Norwood’s claim of being sexually assaulted. And Norwood’s DNA was found inside Murray’s car, which Norwood had driven away from the store as part of her ruse.

She was arrested a week after the murder.

Norwood’s lawyers conceded at the outset of the trial that Norwood had killed Murray, but said she had simply “lost it” in a moment of irrationality and didn’t have the required forethought to be convicted of first-degree murder. A jury rejected that argument after about an hour of deliberation.

Her attorney, Doug Wood, urged a judge to grant her the possibility of parole, though he acknowledged that there was a minimal chance of her ever being granted it. Giving her and her family at least a glimmer of hope is part of the community’s collective healing, Wood argued.

A sentence of life without parole, he argued, “forecloses hope. It forecloses redemption. It forecloses forgiveness. It allows anger, hatred and fear to win out.”