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Killing Reaction Cases Evidence Analysis Media Woody

An Account of Sorrell's April 2 Press Conference

The following account was contributed by a citizen who attended the Attorney General's April 2nd press conference. We hope to eventually post an entire transcript of the press conference.

I arrived at the Brattleboro municipal building about 20 min before the press conference to find about a dozen JFWers that I recognized, along with about as many press, along with 3 video cameras. About 5 minutes before the press conference, there were about 60 people in the room, including the Woodward's, the AG, Cindy Maguire, many burly police officers in suits looking grim, and the shooters themselves. At that time, they placed a stack of papers titled "Attorney General's Report" on a table, and people started picking them up. On page 2 was the conclusion: "The shooting death of Robert Woodward on December 2, 2001, although tragic, was legally justified." Wails of grief, shouts of disbelief and anger, muttered and shouted curses, sobbing, was the sound for the next minute or so. Then angry cries directed at the AG, who was standing at the front at a podium. "Liar! Murderer! This is outrageous! We are not going away!" were a few of the things I remember hearing. At this point, the AG had a funny smirk on his face. I felt flush with rage. Someone said to him "You think this is a joke?" He stopped smirking. Then shouting, chanting, JFWers holding signs and crying out at the AG and the TV news cameras. It was so sad. You could just see any hope for justice being punched out of people's stomachs as they came to realize what this means. More shouts of confrontation aimed at the AG. Funny, the shooters were right there, yet the AG got all the heat. The AG stood there, flanked by State Police officers in suits, and you could just tell where he was coming from and what he was there to do.

Then he gave his presentation. I can't remember or go into detail about what he said, but he told a timeline of what took place, described his version of the incident using a map of the church sanctuary, and then made some points that supported his decision. The gist was this: The police were called there, they were told en route that Woody was threatening people with a knife, Woody threatened the officers with a knife, and they shot him to protect themselves and the people who were there with him. He spent quite a bit of time discounting the eyewitnesses accounts by pointing out specific inconsistencies in them, and saying over and over again how Woody supposedly ran toward the officers while threatening them with a knife. He emphasized that mental health professionals that were at least initially present that he interviewed diagnosed Woody as "extremely psychotic", and he then continued to use this diagnosis through out the presentation to justify the officer's actions. He also said that the autopsy showed ephedrine in his blood in an amount 20 times the usual dose, and that it could have caused him to be psychotic. I liked Keith's comment at that point "How much caffeine was in the cop's blood?". My overall impression was that he was completely ignoring the outrageousness of the shooting, and was picking and choosing his facts to support his conclusion.

After the presentation, he took questions from first the press, then the "public", or us. The press asked some pretty good questions for about 45 minutes, and then he answered some of our questions. He was obviously pissed off at the JFWers for confronting him at the beginning of the press conference, and even refused to call on Zak, who had his hand up to ask a question the whole time. The last person to be called on yielded to Zak, so he got the last question, which was a good one about why didn't the police use pepper spray or other non-lethal means. It's hard to remember what all was asked, I was quite angry through out the whole thing, I remember telling him that I thought that he was only presenting the evidence that seemed to justify his conclusion, that it sounds like he was saying that the police were acting under the incorrect belief that Woody had threatened others, pointed out that since nobody was being held hostage, the group of people that the officers found was a voluntary gathering, and asked him why the officers felt that they should enter such a gathering with guns drawn. He responded that they had been called by Butterfield. Someone told him that this sends an awful message to the police that they can kill the mentally ill without consequence. Another said that the AG was being shameful in so obviously protecting these officers, when if a cop were to be shot, they would be all over the person who did it. Of course I'm biased, but to me the AG really came across as on the side of the police against the need for justice and fairness. You could imagine him presenting the same findings and saying that it was inappropriate for the police to have shot him, or to have shot him 7 times, or to have handcuffed him, or to have escalated to killing him so quickly. But even though the shooting seems so outrageous to most any outside observer, he acknowledged none of it. He is obviously one of them.

The AG called Woody's knife a "9 inch knife" (it only has a slightly over 3 inch blade) to astonished gasps from those seated. He quoted eye witnesses accounts when they supported his contention that the officers were justified, but pointed out inconsistencies in eyewitness accounts when they conflicted with his account. He said that he didn't consider the concept of sanctuary when making this determination, as they officers didn't know that he had requested it. He said that he hoped that this finding would start the "healing process". He evaded answering directly questions about the relationship between Maguire and the shooters via her drug task force, and never said whether she knew them or not. He said that his finding would be different if he believed that Woody was shot when down, yet, according to someone at the press conference, 2 eyewitnesses saw just that. He kept saying over and over that the eyewitness accounts differed, and offered many examples of ridiculously inaccurate statements made by this or that eyewitness. You can't trust eyewitness accounts unless they support your conclusion, he seemed to be saying.

The AG also said that the cops and the ambulance staff quoted Woody as saying that he apologized "to the officers that he assaulted.", and that he "wanted them to shoot him". First of all, who uses such a legalistic word as "assaulted" when they are in such a state? And why in the world would Woody say that he wanted them to shoot him, when he had been saying over and over that his fear was based on such a thing happening? I think that this is manufactured evidence. I am realizing, as I reflect on today, that what I saw was an obvious whitewash. Taken in totality, the press conference today was a tremendous effort to make this go away by spinning the story to the cop's benefit. When asked if he would make the evidence (specifically the 911 tapes) available, as he previously said that he would, he hesitated, said that he would release the transcripts, then sort of laughed incredulously and said that there 900 pages of evidence, and that you would have to pay for it if you really wanted it. It was as though his attitude was "I've told you what the evidence is, now what do you want to look at it for?".

The AG used the fact that 18 people stayed to help Woody as justification for killing him. Because 18 people were a combination of not afraid of and concerned for him that they stayed to help him, the cops pretend that they killed Woody to protect them. They couldn't admit that they shot a man who had not threatened anyone nor broken a law, so they played up this and discount that and make up a confession that he can't take back. Isn't that sick?

One can see them pick and choose what suits them all through the report. Eyewitnesses can't be relied on, yet they are quoted when they support the conclusion. Woody was psychotic, yet he provided a confession after he was shot. In the report, they can not produce an eyewitness account to actually confirm the 3 police officers contention that Woody came at Parker with the knife. The closest they can come is saying that "Several witnesses at least partially corroborate the officer's statements." You would think that out of 18 people, at least one would have seen that. Unless it didn't happen. They give 3 quotes that refer to "wild body movements", "some movement with the knife other than at himself", "some provocation on his part", but not one person said "I saw Woody come at Parker with the knife". But that's their justification.

In fact, all of pieces of evidence that they rely on to justify the shooting are also the ones that come from the police themselves: Holbrook saying that someone at the church told him that Woody was threatening people with a knife, that Woody came at Parker with the knife pointed at him, that Woody apologized to the officers that "I assaulted", and that he said that he "wanted them to shoot him". The report presents this quote from Woody: "Please tell the officer I assaulted that I did not want to hurt him. I would not have harmed him. I just wanted him to shoot me". It is presented surrounded with quotation marks, and is called Robert Woodward Statement to Rescue Squad Member. But in the report, they back off and say that he made "...several statements to the effect that he wanted to apologize to the officer he assaulted..." Was it a quote, or an amalgam of things he supposedly said in the ambulance? Did he really say "I assaulted"? Why would he want them to shoot him when everything that he said up until that time indicated that that was the thing that he was most afraid of?

The report is clearly biased. Out of all the evidence that they collected, the report only contains that which justifies their conclusion. A fair, impartial investigation that had reached this conclusion would at least show conflicting evidence and acknowledge uncertainty and ambiguity, not the iron clad certainty of this report.

page last modified: 2005-03-06