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Justice for Woody, Trouble for Dean

- November 27, 2003

COURTESY OF JOHN PETTIT/ DEANFORAMERICA.COM
Feature
Top: Howard Dean Below: Robert "Woody" Woodward
COURTESY OF JUSTICE FOR WOODY
Feature
Between the Lines
Two years after the fatal shooting of Robert "Woody" Woodward by two Brattleboro police officers, several alarming questions about the incident and subsequent investigation remain unresolved. On Dec. 2, the second anniversary of Woodward's death, a group of friends and concerned citizens will hold a silent march in Brattleboro, not only to honor Woodward's memory, but to draw public attention to charges the group has leveled at the shooters, the state Attorney General who exonerated police of wrongdoing, and presidential candidate and former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

Woodward was shot on Dec. 2, 2001, while seeking political sanctuary at All Soul's Church in Brattleboro during a Sunday morning service. After being called to the scene by a member of the congregation, police officers Marshall Holbrook and Terrance Parker encountered a distraught but docile Woodward, who had threatened to take his own life with a pocket knife. He was otherwise unarmed.

Holbrook and Parker fired and hit Woodward seven times. While the officers later claimed that they fired because Woodward suddenly lunged at them -- an account that Vermont AG William Sorrell used to exonerate them -- only one of the 18 eyewitnesses to the shooting even vaguely corroborated the police version of events. (For a detailed review of the case as well as Sorell's official report, go to www.justiceforwoody.org.)

The Dec. 2 march, which begins at noon at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, is organized by Justice for Woody, a group founded in the aftermath of the shooting. Keith Carlson, a founding member of JFW and a close friend of Woodward's, said the march will have a "respectful, civil" tone -- "This won't be an angry event," he said -- but it will, he hopes, "bring attention to the charges we are making."

Those charges include accusations that Sorrell and Dean conspired to help cover up gross misconduct by police, who, the group alleges, shot Woodward without justification and subsequently prevented him from getting prompt medical treatment. According to eyewitness accounts, a medical doctor on the scene begged police to allow her to tend to Woodward, who was lying handcuffed in a pool of his own blood, but she was repeatedly rebuffed. Woodward died in a New Hampshire hospital about three hours after the shooting.

Though AG Sorrell's official report was widely criticized upon its release, Howard Dean, who was governor of Vermont at the time, refused to appoint an independent investigator, stating that he was "comfortable" with Sorrell's findings. Sorrell and Dean are longtime friends and close political allies.

A civil lawsuit filed by Woodward's family against the town of Brattleboro is pending.

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