Jayna Murray died in a "horrific" argument with her co-worker at a Bethesda yoga store -- but the killing was not a premeditated murder, an attorney for the woman charged in Murray's death says.

Brittany Norwood "lost it" and "unfortunately and stupidly" killed Murray at the Lululemon Athletica where the pair worked, Douglas Wood, an attorney for Norwood, said in his opening statement at her trial.

Norwood, 29, is charged with first-degree murder. In his opening statement, Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy told jurors that Murray, 30, was bludgeoned to death the night of March 11 by seven or eight weapons, including a hammer, a merchandise stand, knives, a merchandise peg, a wrench and a rope.

Norwood, McCarthy said, used the 10 hours between the killing and when the pair was found the next morning to try to cover up her crime. She used men's sneakers she found in the store to create bloody footprints, cleaned out the cash registers and told police the two women were attacked during a robbery.

Lululemon case timeline
» March 11: Jayna Murray is beaten to the death at the Lululemon Athletica store in Bethesda.
» March 12: Police find Murray dead and Brittany Norwood bound at the store.
» March 18: Norwood is arrested and charged with first-degree murder.
» May 15: Norwood is indicted by a Montgomery County grand jury.
» Aug. 3: Prosecutors file notice that they will seek a sentence of life in prison without parole if Norwood is convicted.
» August/September: Norwood's attorneys explore an insanity defense, but ultimately do not file the papers for that plea.
» Oct. 24: Jury selection begins in Norwood's trial.
» Oct. 26: Testimony begins after two and half days of jury selection.
Degrees of murder: What's the difference?
First-degree murder: An intentional, willful, deliberate and premeditated killing; maximum penalty is life in prison.
Second-degree murder: A slaying committed with the intent to kill or cause serious bodily injury, but does not have to be premeditated; the maximum penalty is 30 years in prison.
Voluntary manslaughter: An intentional killing committed in a rage, sometimes called a heat of passion, provoked by the victim; maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.
Source: Maryland code

But that doesn't amount to first-degree murder, which under Maryland law is a deliberate, willful and premeditated killing, the defense attorney said.

Wood said Norwood and Murray had worked together that day without any conflicts. Norwood didn't bring any weapons with her when she called Murray back to the store after closing because she said she had left her wallet inside, Wood said.

But during a "mutual affray," he said, "Jayna was killed by Brittany."

By acknowledging Norwood's role in the killing, the defense appears to be aiming for a conviction of second-degree murder or manslaughter, which carry substantially shorter prison terms than the life sentence prosecutors are seeking if Norwood is convicted on the first-degree charge. The killing did not meet criteria for the death penalty under Maryland law.

Prosecutor McCarthy described a gory crime scene, showing the jury a photograph of Murray sprawled on the ground face down, the white floor turned red by blood. Her gray pants were cut, what McCarthy called an attempt to make it look like she had been sexually assaulted.

Murray suffered 322 "distinct, separate, identifiable injuries," he said. McCarthy said she suffered more than 100 defensive wounds, meaning she suffered a prolonged attack and slow death.

"You don't have 107 defensive injuries if you're not alive," he said.

Norwood, in contrast, suffered little more than scratches, McCarthy said.

When Norwood talked to the police over the next week, she "began to concoct a web of lies," changing and adding to her story, McCarthy said.

Blood from both women was found in Murray's car, he said. But Norwood first told authorities that she had never been in Murray's car, then later said the robbers had ordered her to move the vehicle.

Such statements were a "series of inept steps," not the work of a cunning murderer, Wood countered.

 

Photo exhibits submitted during the Lululemon murder trial. The images include a map of downtown Bethesda, a drawing of the store's layout, shoes prosecutors say were used to create fake foot prints and tools allegedly used to bludgeon Murray to death. Photos - Pool Photographer Wendy Galietta

Norwood, wearing black pants, a gray sweater and a white blouse, showed no emotion as attorneys described the killing.

Testimony in the trial began Wednesday after two and half days of jury selection, which lasted longer than usual because of the case's notoriety. Six men and six women -- plus three men and two women serving as alternates -- were chosen to hear the case.

Rachel Oertli, the Bethesda Lululemon's manager, testified that she found the store unlocked and a mess the morning of March 12. She suspected something was wrong, and a passer-by offered to go inside with her.

That man, Ryan Haugh, testified that he saw Norwood tied up and moaning on the floor and a "big streak of blood" leading to Murray's body.

ebabay@washingtonexaminer.com