UPDATE: Norwood's Statements Debated in Court
A motions hearing went forward Friday for the woman accused of killing her co-worker at Bethesda's Lululemon shop in March.
Update, 4 p.m.: Montgomery County Circuit Court judge Robert Greenberg Friday denied a motion by Brittany Norwood's defense team to bar evidence that victim Jayna Murray accused Norwood of stealing based on the defense's position that evidence of "other crimes" isn't admissable.
"I don't read [State's Attorney John McCarthy] to be attempting to prove a theft occurred. Rather, he's attempting to prove a statement was made to the defendant from which she inferred, directly or indirectly, that she was being accused of stealing," Greenberg said.
However, it's still unclear whether certain evidence will be admissable at trial.
Greenberg raised questions as to whether phone conversations between Murray and other store employees the night of the crime, along with a conversation between Norwood and her brother, proved that Norwood knew Murray suspected her of stealing prior to the crime. That knowledge is what the state is attempting to prove was Norwood's motive. Certain conversations may not be admissable at trial, Greenberg said.
Questions as to whether shoeprint and blood pattern evidence is reliable will be dealt with at trial, Greenberg ruled.
Douglas Wood, an attorney for Norwood, argued there was no evidence to prove Norwood knew Murray suspected her of stealing.
“There’s no proof that she was confronted about shoplifting,” Wood said.
At Friday’s hearing, McCarthy said Murray checked Norwood’s bag and discovered a pair of yoga pants with the tag still on. Norwood told Murray another store employee had sold the pants to her, McCarthy said.
Murray asked Norwood for a receipt, which she couldn’t provide, McCarthy said. The two then attempted to access the store’s computers to look for evidence of the transaction, but the computers were shut down for the evening, McCarthy said.
After the two left the store, McCarthy said Murray called the employee from whom Norwood said she had bought the yoga pants. That employee denied selling Norwood the pants, and Murray then called the store manager, who told Murray that she would fire Norwood the following day, McCarthy said.
Greenberg questioned McCarthy as to how Norwood knew Murray suspected her of stealing.
“How was it relevant they were planning on firing her in the morning unless [Norwood] knew it? What difference does it make?” Greenberg said.
McCarthy said that a video-recorded conversation between Norwood and her brother Christopher at Montgomery County Police headquarters several hours before her arrest proved that Norwood knew Murray suspected her of stealing.
In the conversation between Norwood and her brother, which was played in court, Christopher Norwood, alone with his sister in an interrogation room, pleaded with his sister to tell him what happened the night of the crime.
“Why did you fight this girl? ... Was this all planned?” Christopher Norwood asked, to which Brittany Norwood responded, “No, not at all.”
In the video, Christopher Norwood discusses getting a lawyer and possibly using a “temporary insanity” defense.
“The problem with that is you talked to too many people,” Christopher Norwood said. “…That doesn’t look good, because you tried to cover it all up.... I had never doubted you.”
“I didn’t know what to do,” Brittany Norwood responded. “I had never been accused of anything.”
Christopher Norwood also said, “So she attacked … wait, she came to let you in, right? And then what happened? What did she say?”
Brittany Norwood responded, “That she was going to like, I don’t know, make sure our manager knew or something.”
McCarthy attempted to prove that statement, along with a contested section of the recording during which he said Norwood responded “mmm hmm” to her brother’s question, “Did she accuse you of shoplifting? Is that what this is all about?” proved Norwood knew Murray suspected her of the crime.
While Wood said the two women "argued about something," he said it was "conjecture" that the confrontation was about shoplifting.
Based on a police interview with a store employee with whom Murray spoke the night of the crime, "Jayna told Brittany it was no big deal, they would deal with it later," Wood said.
While Greenberg said it wasn't clear whether the phone conversations would be admissable at trial, he did say the conversation with her brother indicated Norwood felt she had been accused by Murray.
This post has been updated.
Original post, 5:50 a.m.: Brittany Norwood’s defense team will attempt to bar testimony regarding a blood pattern examination and a shoeprint analysis from Norwood’s October trial at a Friday motions hearing, according to court documents. Norwood’s defense is also expected to argue that prosecutors be barred from presenting evidence that Norwood stole from the Lululemon store.
Both moves are opposed by prosecutors.
Norwood, 29, stands accused of killing her co-worker Jayna Murray, 30, in March at Bethesda’s Lululemon store. Prosecutors have said Norwood lied to police and elaborately staged the crime scene to make it appear as if the two women were attacked.
Prosecutors say Murray discovered Norwood stealing a pair of yoga pants from the shop, a motive for the crime. Norwood is slated to stand trial Oct. 24.
In court documents, Norwood’s defense asks Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Robert Greenberg to exclude the expert opinions of William Vosburgh, who analyzed blood patterns, and David McGill, who analyzed shoeprints found at the scene.
In his bloodstain pattern analysis, Vosburgh concludes that Murray was struck in the head while she was standing and trapped behind the back door of the shop, “her assailant preventing exit.” The patterns were “consistent with the decedent receiving repeated blows in this confined space during a transition from standing, to kneeling or crouching to a position on or near the ground as the beating progressed.”
Norwood’s defense argues in court documents that Vosburgh’s analysis is “not based on valid and reliable scientific methodologies.”
The defense team also claims that McGill’s shoeprint analysis is based on “novel” approaches. A lab test during which McGill dipped a shoelace in blood and “walked” it on paper to re-create patterns found at the scene is not a widely accepted scientific technique, the defense argues.
The prosecution counters in court documents that both experts are qualified and their testimony should be admitted.
Additionally, prosecutors are opposing a motion by the defense to bar evidence that Norwood stole from the shop.
“The State may not introduce evidence of the commission of other crimes by the defendant merely to show the defendant's criminal tendency,” defense attorneys wrote in a court document. “If the State is allowed to introduce such evidence there is a great likelihood that the evidence would cause the jury to infer that that the defendant is of bad moral character and therefore committed the charged crime.”
Prosecutors argue they seek to prove Norwood was accused by Murray of stealing, not that Norwood actually stole.
“Ms. Murray’s allegation that the defendant was stealing from the store was the motive for the killing that occurred on March 11, 2011,” prosecutors wrote in court documents. “It is inextricably linked to the charged crime."
Norwood admitted in a taped conversation with her brother on March 18 that Murray had accused her of stealing, prosecutors said in the documents.
The motions hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Friday. Stay tuned to Patch for updates.