Opening Statements by the Woodwards' Attorneys
The following statements were made by the Woodwards' attorneys, Joel Faxon and Tom Costello during the press conference announcing the filing of a lawsuit to obtain information about the killing of Woody.
Thank you all for coming here on this important national holiday. Martin Luther King said about 40 years ago, in a speech at Wesleyan University, in Middleton CT, that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice. The Woodward family recognizes that the battle for justice in this case will take time, but the family is committed to fighting that battle and it is important that it began today.
We are all brought here together by the horrible shooting of Robert Woodward that happened on December second 2001 at the All Souls Church here in Brattleboro. Joanne Woodward will speak with you shortly about Woody. Since the shooting, all the Woodward family has wanted to find out in this case is the truth. Two weeks ago we asked the State's Attorney, who rightly recused himself from case, and the Attorney General to simply share data and physical evidence with us, so the family can get to the truth. Mr. Costello will discuss these requests with you shortly. We are dismayed to report that the state officials investigating this case continue to maintain secrecy, and refuse to provide the family with the facts so that they can begin to understand how this tragedy happened, and what happened in the All Souls Church on December second 2001.
A truly independent investigation of this tragedy is required, since the State Police in their own press release issued on December three, merely one day after the shooting in this case, concluded that the officers did nothing wrong. The State Police have wrongly prejudged this case. That prejudgment is fatal to any fair examination of the facts and circumstance in this case by the Attorney General.
Moreover the focus of the Attorney General's investigation here is extremely narrow. Acting Chief Martin said Friday that the civil rights are implicated in this case, and that is key, civil rights are implicated, and the information we have obtained to date does show that and has required the filing the lawsuit here. Now since the Attorney General's investigation will not inquire into civil rights violations, we must do that. Chief Martin acknowledged that serious issues involving civil rights are at issue. He requested that the FBI get involved in this case. the FBI has refused to do so, now we must do so on behalf of the family.
Not only have the State Police acted in haste in this case, but the town has inexplicably returned both of these officers to full duty carrying the same weapons that they carried on December second when they killed Robert Woodward. Now there are no investigations that have been completed in this case, and of all the cases I've been involved with in the past where police shootings are at issue, never once have I seen a case where police officers were returned to full duty in the middle of the investigation. I find that appalling.
Now the rush to judgment in this case is unacceptable and the principal reason why the family must take action to insure all available evidence is properly examined and ndepdendetly considered. Now the state's refusal to cooperate with the family leaves us no choice but to file suit so we can subpoena records and obtain sworn testimony here, to find out exactly what happened on on December second 2nd 2001. And that will help us identify ways in the future to avoid this sort of incident ever happening again. Thank-you.
Now Mr. Costello will discuss with you the requests reasonable requests made to the Attorney General and how those requests were denied.
Mr. Faxon and I are humbled and very privileged to represent this extraordinary family of Vermonters. And as we were thinking about how to express our feeling today, our thoughts turn to January 15th, 1968, the evening Martin Luther King, junior, died; and to the remarks that evening of Robert Kennedy in Indianapolis in the back of a pickup truck. He expressed the pain of that event and the commitment to non-violence and to ending violence. I'll share those elements with you. We refer to Aeschylus's poem, the poem saying "In our sleep, pain which cannot forget drops, falls drop by drop upon the heart until in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful Grace of God." The pain here with this family has been extraordinary from that pain in the end will come wisdom. He said further in discussing where we went as a people, this family joins with him in saying it is their effort to understand, to comprehend, and to replace the violence.
Now the effort has been from the beginning with this family to reach out to those with primary responsibility to do an independent and fair investigation. And in your packets you have the letters that began on the 7th of January.
That was a letter by Mr. Faxon and myself to the Attorney General and the State's Attorney. In that letter we express to them our concerns about the conflicts, the internal conflicts, our concern about the secret inquest, and our concern that their efforts would be focused on criminal responsibility. It indicated to them two requests. First, that they share with the family in an ongoing way their activities. Second, that they give the family the documents and the other evidence, physical evidence, that they have obtained. And we asked that they respond by the 14th.
And on the 14th there was a letter from Mr Sorrell which rejected that request and relied on three elements. First that providing the documents, or the evidence, would compromise the integrity of the criminal investigation. Secondly it said that the criminal investigation had priority and should go first. And thirdly, that under the law he had no right to give the materials to us.
Your packets show our response on the 15th of January. As for the integrity of the investigation, you are aware of the press release by the Vermont State Police on the third of December. This death happened mid-day on the second of December. That afternoon our State's Attorney went to the All Souls Church and determined that the State Police should do the investigation. The key to that investigation was the determination as to whether these officers discharged their service pistols when they believed their safety or members of the congregation's safety was threatened. That was the issue they were to investigate. That investigation is not yet completed. Now it's not necessary that to do an investigation they issue a press release, but in this case they did. And they issued a press release on the third of December, the first day. In that release it states officers Hollbrook and Parker discharged their service pistols when they believed their safety and members of the congregation's safety were threatened. We indicated to Mr. Sorrell that if in fact there was a concern on the part of the state that that process not be prejudiced by disclosures, to consider this disclosure of the conclusion on the first day of the investigation by those who were investigating. Secondly in regard to the public records law we indicated to him that that would not prohibit disclosure in the event that they had an interest in cooperating with the family Third of all we indicated that on the seventh of December the State's Attorney met with our family had a very open and courteous conversation with him and shared with them aurally the autopsy report. And fourthly we indicated to him that if in fact confidentiality was important to him then the family would be agreeable to a reasonable order for confidentiality.
We asked they respond by by the 18th, and on the 17th you have in your packets a letter indicating that they were unagreeable and stood by their earlier response.
As I indicated, we are, as a family, are very grateful to Dan Davis, who traveled to Connecticut, met with the family and shared with them everything he knew on the seventh of December. He indicated to the family that the full autopsy would be produced in a timely fashion, and disclosed and discussed with them the preliminary autopsy. We are grateful to his courtesy to Mr. Faxon and I, and grateful to his consideration of his institutional conflicts and his courage to make the proper decision last Friday to withdraw from the case.
Our efforts with the Attorney General have met with no similar success. Even our efforts to get the preliminary autopsy report, the record of it, had been blocked by him. We are saddened by the posture, particularly in regard to the pubic statements by the Vermont state police on the third of December.
The family also wishes to express their gratitude to Chief Martin. In a press conference in this room last Friday night, a very courageous way, Chief Martin expressed to the public, to the town, the state, his having spoken to the federal authorities on the ninth of January. He indicated he did so because he recognized that there was at issue here a civil right. The question was put to him why would you make that request when you had two authorities who you felt were competent thoroughly investigating the situation. and he in a forthright, thoughtful, and courageous way, said because at issue here also are civil rights, and those civil rights are not covered by the investigations which are presently underway. The federal authorities rejected that offer and that is the area of responsibility that this family is assuming today.