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Version 3.8
Copyright 2001-2008
JusticeForWoody.net site last revised 1/17/06
fair use notice

Killing Reaction Cases Evidence Analysis Media Woody

Sorrell's (Non-)Theory of the Shooting

The theory of the shooting -- an accounting of the actions by police and the 'subject' in the few seconds immediately prior to and during the shooting -- is key issue in a legal justification of the shooting.

Deducing the theory of the shooting underlying Sorrell's report is tricky because the SUMMARY FINDINGS and DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT are difficult to reconcile. The SUMMARY FINDINGS say:

When [Woody] advanced towards the police with the knife in his hand, he was shot seven times by Officers Terrance Parker and Marshall Holbrook as he continued his forward movement.

Robert Woodward, struck by four bullets in the right arm, one in the left arm,
one in the abdomen and one in the lower back, died as a result of his wounds ..

The DETAILED FINDINGS OF FACT say:

11. Robert Woodward made a forward motion in the direction of Parker, with the knife still in his hand. Officer Parker fired the first shot, which struck Woodward and caused him to jerk backwards and to his right.

12. With the knife still in his hand, Mr. Woodward continued to advance
in the direction of Officer Parker. Parker shot three more times. Officer
Holbrook shot after the first Parker shot. Holbrook shot three times.
A total of seven shots were fired, the last six in rapid succession.

13. After the last shot was fired, Mr. Woodward fell in front and to the left
of the podium. From his position at the time of the first shot until he fell,
he traveled a distance of approximately 15 feet in the direction of and across
the front of Officer Parker.

...

17. Mr. Woodward died during surgery as a result of the gunshot wounds.
The autopsy confirms seven gunshot wounds.

The summary findings state that Woody was advancing toward the officers before the first shot was fired. The detailed findings state the first shot came after "a forward motion", leaving it open that it could have been just the forward motion of a body part, such as a hand, not necessarily the one holding the knife, waving away the officers. The "continued advance" in the following finding helps the reader miss this discrepancy. Thus the detailed findings are much more compatible with eyewitness statements. But which are we to believe is Sorrell's finding?

The report is also extremely vague about the shots subsequent to the first. It leaves open that shots could have been fired if Woody was still in "forward movement" but no longer "in the direction of" Parker. It is possible within the constraints of Sorrell's findings to imagine Woody being shot by Parker from behind as we was moving away from him. It also cleverly leaves open that shots could have been fired after woody fell, with the fall described in finding 13 being an additional fall of a few inches while he was on the floor.

Sorrell's report does not attempt to account for which bullet caused the fatal wound, nor does it account for the bullet that lodged in the window molding in the front of the sanctuary.

Perhaps it is hard to discover Sorrell's theory of the shooting because there is none, only language crafted to avoid saying anything specific. But if he doesn't have a theory, he clearly hopes we will accept the theory of the officers, which he presents first in some detail then presents only alleged eyewitness statements that appear to support it, hiding recorded statements from the same eyewitnesses contradicting it. That theory is specific about important details, like that all of the shots were fired within an interval of time during which Woody was rapidly advancing towards Officer Parker.

There are several things wrong with his theory beyond it's incompatibility with eyewitness testimony.

  • It fails to plausibly account for the four bullets in Woody's right arm. Sorrell at his press conference discounted the idea that they were trying to shoot the knife out of his hand. Their training says they should aim for the body mass. Why, then, did 4 shots hit his right arm?
  • It fails to plausibly account for the bullet in Woody's back. The report stretches credulity to suggest that the bullet wound in his back was sustained while he was moving toward the police. Woody would have had to have twisted so as to present his back forward while rapidly advancing. How many people are capable, let alone inclined, to twist their lower back by over ninety degrees in a forward charge?
  • It holds that Woody rapidly advanced 15 feet or more while absorbing the impact of 7 bullets from the direction of his advance, and came to rest beyond Parker. 40 caliber rounds pack perhaps 300-1000 foot-pounds of energy each. It is not believable that a 15 foot charge by a 140 pound man would not have been halted by that many 40-caliber rounds, if much of the momentum of the bullets were transferred to Woody's (ie: the bullets did not exit his body).

All of these observations are consistent with a theory that most of the shots were fired by the officers while they stood over Woody, who was curled up lying on his left side and holding the knife to his eye with his right hand, which would have his right elbow positioned roughly over his center of body mass as seen from above.


page last modified: 2008-07-20