The March 2011 murderous assault referred to by the press as the Lululemon murders was particularly intriguing to the world for several reasons: first, because of its unusual cruelty, and second, because of its unlikely perpetrator. The incident shocked the well-to-do community of Bethesda, Maryland, town with a low crime rate that sits close to Washington, D.C., and ended in a life sentence for its perpetrator, Brittany Norwood.
Norwood and her victim, 30-year-old Jayna Murray, worked together at Lululemon Athletica, a high-end yoga apparel store with a yogi lifestyle vibe. However, Murray and several other employees began to suspect that Norwood had shoplifted yoga pants and fragrance products. Some reports say that Jayna Murray had in fact found merchandise in Norwood's bag and confronted her about it. She even called the manager of the store to report the theft, saying, "We caught the bitch."
That evening, after the two women left the store, Norwood claimed that she had left her wallet inside and convinced Murray to accompany her back into the store. There, she began a brutal attack that lasted around twenty minutes and included up to eight individual weapons, including rope, a hammer, and a metal rod. Medical examiners later concluded that Murray was alive throughout the majority of the attack, and her autopsy revealed one hundred and seven defense wounds, which she received during attempts to fight Norwood away from her. Jayna Murray also attempted to flee through the back door of the store. Her body had well over three hundred wounds, including stab wounds, head trauma, and signs of choking, as well as a severed spinal cord and a skull fracture.
Once Murray was dead, Norwood spent hours creating a fake crime scene to make it look as though, she, too, were a victim. She moved Murray's car away from the front of the store, then used a pair of men's shoes to track blood around the store. She also bound her hands and feet and inflicted superficial wounds on herself, then went to lie in a bathroom, leaving Murray where she died in a back hall of the store.
Brittany Norwood and Jayna Murray were found the next morning by a coworker. Police described Norwood as "traumatized." She told them that several men in masks had entered the store and sexually assaulted both women before leaving her bound in the bathroom and killing her co-worker.
The relatively safe community of Bethesda was shaken by the story, which spurred an aura of fear and mistrust. The inhabitants, unused to stories of violent crimes, reacted with a general sense of unease and a strong desire for increased protection. There was an outcry in defense of Norwood and Murray, who were seen as victims of a senseless crime. A warrant was issued, the sale of ski masks carefully backtracked and monitored, and one man, suspected of being a person of interest, even tailed by police.
But detectives weren't convinced of Norwood's story. Medical examinations proved that neither women had been sexually assaulted, but Norwood claimed that they had been violated with a clothes hanger. There were only two sets of footprints around the store: Norwood's and those of one of the mysterious attackers. Murray's and the footprints of another attacker or attackers were nowhere to be found.
Police also suspected that she had wounded and bounded herself, and that the crime scene had been doctored- though how or to what extent, it wasn't yet apparent. Similarly, she had at least one wound that is typical of an attacker, not a victim; a cut on the hand that usually occurs when a grip slips on a knife handle.
Most worrisome was the testimony of several Apple employees from the store directly beside Lululemon Athletica, who claimed they had heard female voices in an altercation on the night Murray died. Within a week of the crime, Norwood had been arrested.
During her trial in January 2012, Brittany Norwood's attorney attempted to get her a charge of second-degree murder, with reduced jail time and the possibility of parole, by arguing that though Norwood intended to engage Murray in a physical altercation, she did not actually plan to murder her. Rather, he said, she became overwhelmed during their fight and excessive in her violence, resulting in Jayna Murray's death. The judge, however, deliberated less than half an hour before sentencing Norwood to life in prison without the possibility of parole. He and others did not agree with her attorney's assessment that the crime had not been premeditated; on the contrary, they spoke harshly of exactly how planned and meticulous it was. They cited her extended assault on Murray as well as her elaborate cover-up as evidence of her "cold-blood" violence.
Norwood wept as the judge spoke to her, but the people in the courtroom applauded his sentence. After Norwood's arrest, there was an outcry both in the media and among Murray's family concerning the inactivity of the Apple Store workers, who reported they had the sounds of women arguing, and then screaming, followed by a voice pleading for help, but dismissed the sounds and neglected to call the police. They were criticized by the judge who sentenced Norwood.
Brittany Norwood issued a tearful apolog to Murray's family, asking them for forgiveness. Two years later, in 2014, she attempted to get another trial, saying that the interviews used as evidence for her conviction were not conducted fairly. She said that she thought she was being detained during those interviews and wasn't read her rights. Her request for a retrial was dismissed.
The case raised concerns about Lululemon stores, which have been described as cultish and lifestyle-obsessed. The company encourages growth, study and healthy living among its employees; they attend talks, work out together and study a self-help book that encourages striving for greatness, as the alternative is mediocrity.
The town of Bethesda remained deeply shocked by the events of March 2011. Brittany Norwood, meanwhile, remains in prison for life with no hope for parole.
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