Once a star athlete, Decatur grad now accused of murder

A former South Sound area soccer standout is accused of killing a co-worker at an upscale Maryland yoga clothing shop, then tying herself up and blaming the attack on two masked men.

Brittany Norwood, a 2000 Decatur High School graduate, was ordered held without bond Monday on a charge of first-degree murder.

Norwood grew up in Federal Way. News Tribune photo archives show her in 1994 working on a religion project with fellow sixth-graders at St. Vincent de Paul School. A photo from 1999 shows her as a senior at Decatur, cheering with her best friend at a school rally.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said Norwood, 28, killed her co-worker, Jayna Murray, 30, because Murray confronted Norwood over suspected stolen merchandise in her bag.

Norwood later spun an elaborate ruse to convince authorities that she and the dead woman had been attacked inside the Lululemon Athletica shop in Bethesda where they worked, McCarthy said.

“Her cunning and her ability to lie is almost unparalleled,” McCarthy said.

That description is a marked contrast to the young woman remembered by her former soccer club coach in the Puyallup area, who said Norwood was a “great kid.”

Brian vanBlommestein coached Norwood in 1999 and 2000 when she was a midfielder for the Washington state championship-winning F.C. Royals. He recalled her Monday as “committed, comes to practice (and) never a problem.”

“She was a very good player … ran like the wind,” said vanBlommestein, who still coaches for the club, now called Washington Premier F.C. He also described Norwood as a “hard-tackling kid.”

He told a News Tribune reporter that Norwood comes from a large family; her older sister and younger brother also played for local soccer club teams. “Her family’s unbelievable.”

A standout defender, Norwood was a member of The News Tribune’s All-Area Girls Soccer Team as a senior in fall 1999. After graduating from Decatur the next year, she went on to play soccer at Stony Brook University in New York. As a junior there, she was named in 2002 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America to its Northeast Regional Team.

When he heard Norwood was charged with murder, “it was a shocker,” vanBlommestein said Monday. He called it “hard to fathom that this would be something that could happen.”

Norwood was found the morning of March 12 inside the yoga shop with minor scratches and other wounds, her hands and feet bound. She told police that she and Murray had been sexually assaulted by two masked men who came in the previous night after closing time.

Police initially treated Norwood as a rape victim, offering rewards for information leading to arrests and even doing surveillance on a person of interest. But detectives concluded that neither woman had been sexually assaulted and that Norwood had staged the scene. She was arrested Friday and charged with murder. She faces life in prison if convicted.

Norwood’s blood was found inside Murray’s car, McCarthy said. Only two sets of bloody footprints were found inside the shop, and workers at the adjacent Apple store reported hearing two women – but no men – arguing when the attack was believed to have happened. Authorities also said Norwood’s wounds were self-inflicted.

“No one could have ever anticipated seven or eight days ago that we would be standing here telling you what we are telling you today,” McCarthy told the judge.

Norwood appeared via videoconference from the jail where she is being held. She did not speak during the brief hearing except to answer procedural questions, and her public defender declined to comment as he left court.

McCarthy offered new details about what happened before Murray died, saying she had been asked by a store manager to check Norwood’s bag for stolen merchandise. Murray called the manager that night to say she believed Norwood had been stealing.

That same night, after the store had closed, Norwood told Murray she needed to get back into the store because she left her wallet. When the two returned, they argued over the suspected theft, McCarthy said.

Norwood then picked up some sort of weapon inside the store and used it to beat Murray for as long as 20 minutes throughout the shop, McCarthy said. He said Murray sustained a severed spinal cord and blows “too numerous to count.”

“The nature of this crime is shocking in terms of the level of violence that was directed at the victim,” McCarthy said.

He said Norwood tracked Murray’s blood through the store while wearing a size-14 shoe to throw off detectives.

McCarthy said detectives confronted Norwood and her family on Friday with what they believed happened. He said the family asked to be left alone with Norwood, who could then be heard telling a relative that she was sorry and didn’t want to disappoint him. But she also told him she was wary of talking more because she feared they were being recorded, McCarthy said.

Norwood most recently lived in Washington, D.C. ABC7, a television station in that area, reported Monday that Norwood recently left a job at a hotel near the White House.

The station also cited court documents showing a 2007 civil judgment against Norwood for owing nearly $20,000 in student loans. A landlord in D.C. once sued her for failure to pay rent, ABC7 reported.

Appearing Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Murray’s parents said only that they believe in the justice system and will let the case work its course in the death of their daughter.