ROCKVILLE, Md. (AP) — A woman charged with killing a co-worker at an upscale clothing shop in suburban Washington 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 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 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 should have been more curious about why Norwood had only superficial wounds while Murray was covered with blood and bludgeoned to death.
But police and prosecutors said 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 family's 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," Greenberg said.
The judge said he understood that it took some time to develop 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 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.
"She said that she didn't want to talk about it, at least not there at police headquarters, because she thought the police were watching," Detective James Drewry testified Friday.
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 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," Drewry said.
Norwood's trial is scheduled for Oct. 24. Prosecutors say they'll seek a sentence of life without parole if Norwood is convicted of first-degree murder. 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 Washington where violent crime is rare, with allegations by 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: 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.
"She was not a suspect. She was considered a victim. She was treated as a victim, And if there was somebody who was considered the primary suspect, it wasn't her," Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy said of the first few days after Murray's death,
Drewry said she spoke willingly to police on each occasion. On the day she was arrested, for instance, she arrived with her family at police headquarters after a relative contacted police and said Norwood had more information about the killing that she wanted to reveal.