A verdict was reached this week and Brittany Norwood was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of her coworker, Jayna Murray. This brings to a close the trial that has kept me riveted, disturbed, and deeply saddened. Ever since the first information was released with Norwood's claim of being a victim, I have been trying to wrap my head around what happened on the night of March 11, 2011 at an upscale yoga clothing store. It did not take long for the jury to reach a consensus that Norwood was guilty, but there are two more people who have been receiving a great deal of judgement and criticism: Two employees of the neighboring Apple store who submitted their testimony about what they heard the night of the murder.
It had been widely reported that there were employees next door who had heard the screams of young Ms. Norwood that night. This week during their testimony, more specifics came out and we learned that they heard not only screams for help, but specifically: "God help me. Please help me." The two employees listened on the other side of the wall and one person called the other one over to confirm that they both heard it. For reasons no one seems to be able to determine, neither of the employees called the police or took any action. They later learned with the rest of the world that the screams came from Jayna Murray, whose body was found with at least 322 wounds. By all accounts, this was a disturbing and brutal attack. It is impossible not to be haunted by the question - If those two employees had dialed 911 that night, would Jayna Murray still be alive? They may be asking themselves that question for the rest of their lives, but it will never change the reality. The police were not called that night. Jayna Murray was murdered. Brittany Norwood has been convicted. And hindsight will not heal the broken hearts of the victims family and loved ones. This is a sad, disturbing tragedy and my heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by this senseless act of violence and tragic loss.
When I say that my heart goes out to everyone, I mean that statement to be inclusive. Sadly, there are many people who have no sympathy, but only contempt for the two employees who heard Ms. Norwood's screams that fateful night. Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak asks, What's scarier: The slaying or the bystanders who did nothing? That is easy, Ms. Dvorak. The person who took the life of another person and lied to the police about being a victim to avoid being caught stealing. That is scarier. There is no question who the villain is here. Yet, if you read the comments after Ms. Dvorak's opinion piece, you will read hundreds of comments blaming the employees next door. Presumably by hundreds of people who would unquestioningly do the right thing in that circumstance.
It is easy to speculate what we would have done in that same situation, especially with the specific and graphic information we have received from the testimony. But we have not been in that position, and I hope that none of us will ever find ourselves in that quandary. I like to think that I would have called 911 after hearing those screams. In college, I lived next door to a couple who fought constantly. When my roommate and I heard things being thrown and glass breaking, we called the police more than once. I think it would be my natural reaction. But I don't know. I can say with near certainty that I would never have expected the reality - that the screams coming from the yoga store next door were the sounds of a woman being brutally murdered and stabbed 322 times. Even having read testimony and seen photographs of evidence, I still find this act of violence unbelievable. It is impossible to comprehend the events that took place that night. Yes, the employees should have phoned the police. For whatever reason, they made a terrible, horrible, tragic decision not to get involved. And yes, it is possible that they could have saved Jayna Murray's life that night. That is something they must come to terms with. But that is not the same as committing an act of murder.
As much as we would like to understand why the two people in question decided not to call the police that night, in the end it does not matter. If there is anything positive that can come out of this horrific event, it is the lesson to be learned by all of us. If, God forbid, you do ever find yourself next door to a suspicious altercation, think of Jayna Murray and her family and pick up the phone. I can only speculate what I would have done if I were in that position on the night of March 11th, but I can say with absolute certainty that if I should find myself in that position in the future, I know exactly what I will do. Two people exercised very poor judgment that night. Their inaction is not akin to murder, but they clearly made a mistake. Let us all learn from that mistake and not take anything for granted.