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Woodruff Trial Enters Penalty Phase

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By Mary Shelton

Riverside County Superior Court presiding judge Christian Thierbach ordered both sides to prepare witnesses to testify in the mental retardation phase of the trial stemming from the death of Riverside Police Department detective Doug Jacobs.

"This case is going to the jury Monday," Thierbach said to both attorneys. He said that the mental retardation phase would last one day, and then the trial would proceed immediately into the penalty phase if the jury determined that defendant Steve Woodruff was not mentally retarded.

Originally, this phase of the trial was supposed to begin the previous week, but Thierbach announced that he was going to be unavailable for several days which would delay the proceedings.

The sole African-American juror also expressed concern telling the court that he would no longer receive financial compensation from his employer for jury service. He said that he wished to continue to serve as a juror.

Both sides hope to call expert witnesses to testify whether or not Woodruff is mentally retarded, a crucial issue in death penalty cases since the United States Supreme Court decided that it is unconstitutional to execute mentally retarded people last year.

However, Thierbach warned them that he would not allow the witnesses to rehash testimony given earlier in the trial and what they could say would be limited.

The mental retardation phase, the first in the state for death penalty cases, resulted after the jury decided that Woodruff was guilty of first-degree murder with three special circumstances and the attempted murder of a police officer in less than two hours of deliberation.

Despite the abruptness of the verdict, the courtroom and an adjacent witness room were packed with police officers and prosecutors to hear the verdict.

The jury assembled but Thierbach sent them straight back to the deliberation room because they had forgotten to fill out and sign the forms relating to the special circumstances charges which accompanied the two main criminal charges.

The crowd of over 50 people waited for 30 minutes until they completed that task. Prosecutors in the last row said that they felt a blanket of safety around them with all the law enforcement officers in the room.

The mood seemed festive, as many expressed feelings that the shortness of the deliberation meant a guilty verdict.
After the clerk, who was the sole African-American employee in the room, read the verdicts, people embraced, and officers hi-fived, including Lt. Gary Leach who was sitting in the front row.

Leach had been a subject of controversy during the criminal phase of the trial, because his testimony had conflicted with that of the other officers who arrived at the scene after the shooting and with several incident history reports.

Before the jury was sent to deliberate, both sides argued their cases.
Prosecutor Michael Soccio said that the defense’s case was like smoke in that it changed direction often.

"It goes everywhere, under cracks and around corners," he said.
Soccio argued that the defense tried to confuse jurors by sidetracking them from the facts of the case. Tyisha Miller, was a red herring he said, as was race.

"Was this case ever based on race," he said, "to put this trial in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi is despicable."
He argued that Woodruff had shot his gun at the officers knowing he would kill them and that he had loaded a bullet in the gun before anything terrible had occurred.

"Even if you don’t have an intent to kill, but do something egregious, it’s murder," said Soccio, the prosecutor who once declined to file similar charges in the Miller shooting case.

"This case is so strong for first degree murder, it rises to a level that is beyond most doubt," he added.

Defense Attorney Mark Blankenship disagreed and said the prosecution failed to meet its burden of proof, and that it was a civil rights case. He outlined the jury instructions and said that the law pointed to a verdict in line with voluntary manslaughter for Woodruff.

"Almost every single witness could provide a single alternative reasonable interpretation of what happened," he said as he outlined the problems which plagued the investigation from its beginning. He asked whether former officer Ben Baker was there to keep the peace or dominate someone and whether he was worried a complaint would be filed against him.

"Parthenia Carr was going to turn him in and he‚d only been off of probation for a month," Blankenship said, "Baker escalated the situation."

He said it was not clear that Baker and Jacobs were acting as officers when the shooting occurred.

"We don‚t know who shot first," he said, "Maybe officer Leach knows. He was there according to facts in evidence."
The three magazines from Baker’s gun which turned up missing and the fact that not one of the bullets fired from his gun was recovered from the scene bothered him as well.

The conflicting information given about the furniture on the porch next to the railing where Woodruff allegedly stood, that was given by Detective Ron San Fillippo and Supervising Evidence Technician Carlton Fuller.

A possible bullet strike, ignored by investigators, above a mailbox located between a cypress tree in front of the stairwell and the porch where Woodruff stood. These and other problems with the investigation cast doubt on Woodruff’s guilt, he said.

Thierbach shook his head several times during Blankenship’s closing arguments and Reggie Beamon said afterwards that he saw the clerk pass notes to Thierbach about several jurors who were sleeping.

Blankenship talked about how close
Woodruff was to his mother.
"If someone misses with his mother, that’s war to him," he said, "That kills him inside."
Soccio’s rebuttal followed, and he told the jury to convict Woodruff of first degree murder.

"You are allowed to have some doubt and still be able to convict someone of first degree murder," he said and Thierbach agreed, once again defining the issue of "reasonable doubt" to the jury.

Soccio said that the investigation was thorough adding that it was his office who had removed the bullet from the wall of the house, albeit 15 months after the shooting.

"Don’t give credit where credit is not due," he said in response to Blankenship’s assertion that he had discovered the bullet hole and had asked for months why the prosecution had not recovered it.

According to court records, the prosecution sent a team out with a warrant to remove a siding containing the bullet from the residence after they were asked by Blankenship why they had not removed that bullet, a concern he had raised since shortly after Woodruff's arraignment in 2001.

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