Tuesday, May 6, 2008

This Is A Man: The Heroic Intransigence of James L. Woodard

"I don't know your `philosophy' of life, but I assume you wouldn't take a man's freedom just because you can. That's why I keep sending these letters to you.... I've been locked up 3 1/2 years now and it's been really `frustrating,' but I won't allow anything to prevent me from obtaining what God gave me at birth and what is rightfully mine, my freedom."

From a letter written by James Lee Woodard on June 24, 1984 to Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade

James Woodard was unduly optimistic in his assessment of what passed for Henry Wade's character. As it happened, Wade was precisely the kind of person who would take a man's freedom from him simply because he could. He did so with great frequency, remarkable efficiency, and the chilling composure of a sociopath. In this respect Wade could be considered a prototype of the modern prosecuting attorney.

"I really would like to know one thing," wrote Woodard in a March 31, 1985 letter to Wade, "if you found out for yourself that I was innocent, would you let me go?"

Wade, as we will shortly see, almost certainly knew that Woodard was innocent. Not that he was unduly troubled by that knowledge, of course.

That letter, like all the others Woodard wrote, was re-directed to one of Wade's assistants. Wade never read letters from those he had sent to prison. Presumably, this is because of the volume of correspondence involved. But in the case of Woodard -- and, as we're now learning, a very large number of the other men Wade convicted -- it's likely that the much-heralded DA was trying to protect a bad conscience.

The Book of Proverbs instructs us that "The wicked flee where no man pursueth, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."

Clothed in the supposed majesty of his office, supposedly the soul of blustery rectitude and civic virtue Henry Wade was a cringing, terrified rodent when the truth about his "achievements" threatened to overtake him.

Consigned to a dismal prison cell, facing the prospect of dying behind bars surrounded by those who insisted on his guilt, James Woodard displayed leonine strength of character and inexhaustible tenacity.

Woodard was convicted in 1980 of murdering his girlfriend, Beverly Ann Jones. The case turned on the testimony of an eyewitness who claimed to have seen Woodward near the scene of the murder. That witness claimed to have identified Woodward from several hundred yards away at 3:30 a.m.

Woodward maintained that he had been at a party in Arlington in the company of numerous eyewitnesses at the time of the murder. The Dallas DA's office, headed by former FBI agent Henry Wade, was able to confirm Woodward's alibi. And it was also aware of the fact that three other men had been seen with Miss Jones that night, including two who would later be convicted of sexual assault.

Wade and his office, in their zeal to close the case, refused to provide that exculpatory evidence to the defense, as they were legally and ethically required to do. The case against Woodward was thinner than a bulimic heroin addict; it relied on a dubious eyewitness ID and a pile of circumstantial evidence. Wade and his henchmen did what they could to flesh out that case with layers of insinuation and theatrical outrage, and this proved to be sufficient. In 1981, Woodward was found guilty and sent to prison, apparently for life.

Over the next 27 years, Woodard was up for parole on at least 12 occasions. His conduct in prison was exemplary, and apart from the conviction there was no indication that he would pose a threat to anyone if he were freed. However, at each hearing the parole board insisted that Woodard allocute to the crime, often saying that his refusal to acknowledge his guilt was the only thing standing between him and freedom.

And each time, Woodard refused to concede his guilt.

"They always told me, as long as you deny your guilt it's saying something about you -- you know, you are not willing to own up to your deed," Woodard noted in a remarkable interview broadcast on CBS's 60 Minutes program. And each time, he recalled in a gentle, resonant drawl, the parole board's reaction was, "We gonna deny you."

Like any human being blessed with even a particle of self-awareness, Woodard craved his freedom. But unlike the vast majority of people, he understood that he wouldn't truly be free if, in order to escape his physical imprisonment, he permitted the State to brand him indelibly as a criminal for an offense he didn't commit.

Woodard's physical freedom had been stolen from him. He refused to become an accomplice in that crime by ratifying the State's assault on his integrity. This is why, in a very real sense, Woodard -- even when he was confined to his prison cell -- was freer than many of us who make soul-killing compromises with our Enemy, the State under much less onerous circumstances.

"I wasn't guilty," Woodard explained, his voice flavored with a hint of incredulity when asked why he wouldn't submit to the parole board's demands. "A man has to stand for something."

At some point following Woodard's conviction, a forensic pathologist determined that Miss Jones had been raped the night she was murdered; he collected DNA evidence that could be used either to exonerate Woodard, or confirm his guilt.

To Woodard's considerable good fortune, Dallas authorities maintain an inventory of physical evidence from cases running back several decades. He was blessed by two other remarkable developments: The election last year of reformist Dallas County DA Craig Watkins, and the advent of the Innocence Project, a non-profit, volunteer group that investigates cases that appear to be wrongful convictions.

Watkins has provoked considerable controversy -- and inspired no small amount of gratitude in some quarters -- by energetically reviewing old convictions. To that end he has effectively deputized the Innocence Project of Texas (IPT), providing them with access to case files and backing its investigative efforts with subpoenas. (Case reviews are conducted by law students who receive neither monetary compensation nor class credit for their efforts.) So far, Watkins and the IPT have exonerated 17 innocent men who had been imprisoned by the Dallas DA's office.

Last year, law student Alexis Hoff of the IPT -- a young lady who had not been born when 28-year-old James Woodard went to prison in 1981 -- began to review Woodard's conviction. In November the prisoner -- who had never ceased to proclaim his innocence -- submitted a DNA sample, which didn't match the one obtained from the body of Miss Jones.

Last week, Woodard was released from prison after serving 27 years for a crime he didn't commit. He was imprisoned longer than any of the other convicts whose innocence has been established by DNA testing.

"Unfortunately, Mr. Woodard, you're not getting justice today," explained Texas District Judge Mark Stoltz as he commuted the prison sentence. "You're just getting the end of injustice."

The injustice visited on Woodard was entirely avoidable. Like many prosecutors who came in his wake (Craig Watkins is a very welcome anomaly), Wade's credo appeared to be: "Convict in haste, and exonerate at leisure -- if at all."

A couple of years after Wade hustled Woodard into prison, he pulled the same stunt on Lenell Geter, a transit worker who was convicted of the August 1982 armed robbery of a KFC restaurant and sentenced to life in prison.

About a year and a half later, spurred by adverse publicity generated by an earlier 60 Minutes investigation into the crime and a penetrating series published by the Dallas Times Herald, and conscious that his career was winding down, Wade authorized his office to reopen the case. With minimal effort the investigators turned up a wealth of exculpatory evidence, much of it coming from numerous witnesses who confirmed that Geter had been at work at the time of the robbery. Many of them hadn't even been interviewed. The second investigation also quickly turned up a different suspect, Curtis Mason, who was eventually convicted of the KFC robbery and several other violent crimes.

Despite the overwhelming evidence collected and presented by his own investigators, Wade initially balked at freeing Geter. He eventually relented, and Geter was released in 1984. (Geter, whose story was adapted into a made-for-television movie, now works as a motivational speaker.)

Woodard had to wait twenty-four more years. Twenty-eight years of age at the time of his wrongful imprisonment, he is now 55; the prime of his life was stolen from him because of a vain, corrupt, power-intoxicated, glory-mongering prosecutor -- and, of course, because of the culpable indifference (at best) of the citizens tapped to serve as his jury.

And it shouldn't be forgotten that Woodard made the choice to prolong his own incarceration rather than concede unearned guilt for a crime he didn't commit. In doing so he exercised the only freedom left to him: The freedom to protect his personal integrity. When he was asked about his priorities last year by the Innocence Project, Woodard didn't say that his most cherished goal was to be freed from prison, but rather "To clear my name."

Craig Watkins says he is "haunted" by the possibility that innocent men have been sent to the execution chamber by the Dallas County DA's office; I'd say that this is something akin to a statistical certainty.

One Little Victory: Flanked by Jeff Blackburn and Michelle Moore of the Innocence Project Texas, James Woodard celebrates his freedom.

The U.S. Government and its various subsidiaries, as author Don Bacon recently pointed out, has in its custody 25 percent of the world's total prison population. The Prison-Industrial Complex is a huge and growing subsidized bonanza for government-funded contractors, as well as a surprising number of nominally private companies (from Microsoft to Toys 'R' Us) who profit from extremely low-cost prison labor.

That's right: The U.S., with a prison population that exceeds that of Communist China by 500,000, has its own "reform through labor" system that is the functional equivalent of China's much- and properly-condemned Laogai camps.

Such are the times in which we live that we should take satisfaction in relatively small victories. Of course, to James Woodard there was nothing small or insignificant in the victory he achieved -- with the indispensable help of the Innocence Project -- over the Prison-Industrial Complex. A few more such individual victories could coalesce into a legitimate, and badly overdue, counter-offensive.

Video extra

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Dum spiro, pugno!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for publishing this piece, Will. I just donated to the Innocence Project. It's a small way to show that some people do care about preventing these execrable things that run the government from getting away with this bilge.

If I may, I suggest everyone else do the same.

-Sans Authoritas

Anonymous said...

This article and video should be be read and shown as part of jury instructions.

liberranter said...

After reading this, I can only wonder: Has Henry Wade been exhumed and his remains tossed into a toxic landfill where they so rightfully belong?

Anonymous said...

"This is why, in a very real sense, Woodard -- even when he was confined to his prison cell -- was freer than many of us who make soul-killing compromises with our Enemy, the State under much less onerous circumstances."

Will, Could you give a few examples of some of the soul-killing compromises many of us make that you have in mind?

Could one of these soul-killing compromises include paying "tribute" to a murderous government that is not "due" such "tribute" just to stay out of jail?

Since you refer to "less onerous circumstances" I am sure you have a list of other possible soul-killing compromises that we practice every day but should not.

After watching the video of James L. Woodard I can't help but love his strait forward and honest way of speaking and answering questions.

How about Craig Watkins for Attorney General? I have a sense he would be prosecuting some prosecutors at Gitmo.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine what this guy went through. Most men wouldhave lost their sanity; and I hope he gets some kind of settlement from the state that destroyed his life. It's too bad they can't give him back those years. Is
wade still alive? If so they should haul is butt in prison. How can people like Wade live with themselves? The world would be a much better place if someone got rid of the Wades of this world.



dixiedog said...

I agree with this entire piece, Will. James Woodard is definitely a real man.

As I've mentioned before, and Mr. Woodard in particular confirmed it, true freedom is relative as true freedom encompasses far more than mere physical movement. Indeed, freedom of conscience is far more desirable in my mind than freedom of movement.

I've also always believed that anyone worth their salt wouldn't agree to a so-called "plea bargain" if they TRULY were innocent of the deed(s) in question. So, it really wouldn't have the State-desired effect of copping to a LIE just to obtain a faux "freedom," IF the populace at large were as stalwart in character as Mr. Woodard proved to be.

That video was outstanding, btw. All meat and no fluff in that one. Thanks much for posting it.

Erik said...

It infuriates me to see how many people we send to prison every year. Many of them on victimless crimes. All that does it to create a class of citizens who are far more likely to commit crimes to support themselves because the legal jobs and housing is simply unavailable to them due to their felon status. And there is no cure nor restitution for those who have been jailed so frivolously. The time cannot be given back, the relationships cannot be healed, children grow up without a parent.

Erik said...

Anon says How can people like Wade live with themselves?

The better question to ask is how can WE live with them. We allow extremely dangerous men into these jobs and we have NO way of holding them accountable. Wade is but one instance. The DA prosecuting the Duke "rape" case is another prominent one. There are, of course, many more such DAs, most of whom will never be discovered.

There are some interesting movements out there, such as JAIL4Judges, but I think a danger every bit as big, or bigger, is out of control and/or evil DAs. But how does one hold accountable the only person capable of pressing charges? The answer of course, is that it isn't possible to hold such a man accountable to the law. Which leaves only one the option of dealing with such outside of the law, and I don't believe America is ready for that (nor likely ever will be) which leaves us in the same spot with the same problem.

Unknown said...

I don't know anybody who would knowingly imprison an innocent man; I would venture to say most of your readers don't either.

How then, does it happen that those who would do such a thing ALWAYS WORK FOR THE GOVERNMENT?

These cases are so heartbreaking. This is the first I heard that withholding exculpatory evidence carried no penalty! I was stunned.

Or maybe this crime carries the same penalty as a cop who kills someone when he storms a through the front door during a "drug raid gone bad"-- a few weeks paid vacation as the case is "investigated."

Wouldn't it be nice if you were pulled over for speeding and could present the cop with your own "signing statement" of your understanding of the word "speeding?"

"I'm going to have to arrest you anyway after I taser you, knock you to the ground and beat you to a bloody pulp."

"No need Officer Teeny-Weeny. For the past fifteen minutes I've been investigating myself and have found me innocent."

We'll get justice someday, but it won't be in this world.

jwags said...

Very inspiring story--thanks for publishing this. Woodard is truly a man of integrity, being more concerned about his good name than about freedom.

I don't understand how Wade could have lived with himself either. I guess some people really have no conscience.

Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that there are folks all around us without a shred of conscience.

And if it meant stepping over your dead body to get what they want then people you'd better get ready for their boots!

Conscience is for someone with one just as laws are for the law abiding.

Unknown said...

Right Jwags, but most people do have a conscience; those who don't are either serial killers or are right now running for president, to replace the current psychopath. They are in the police departments, the "Justice" Department and every other department.

Most people think this can't happen to them, but it will. Maybe not to this extreme, but just wait until your next "Routine Traffic Stop."

I'm a 55 year old woman stopped for "suspicious" behavior (which was never explained and p.s. don't bother asking -- if "suspicion" is used as a pretext for a predatory psychopath, he won't answer you.)

Since this happened before every Ala. cop was given tasers, the only thing I suffered was being knocked to the ground and bound in handcuffs so tight as to cause extreme pain. Having watched the nice policemen on "Cops" not only loosen cuffs if requested, but do it sometimes without being asked. So I asked the cop if he would loosen them as I had arthritis in my back and shoulders. He never answered me.

When I told my family and friends about this, I could read it in their eyes: you must have donesomething wrong. Police don't just stop people for no reason.

"Why do you keep talking about this?" they asked.


"You're just being dramatic, and shut up about it already."

Their time is coming. . .

Anonymous said...

See the great Orson Welles movie, "Touch of Evil'. It gives one a snapshot of creatures like Wade.
When Nifong was riding high on the hog with the MSM and the other usual suspects, I recalled reading that he received several hundred support letters/emails from his fellow prosecutors. If this story is true, the ones who sent the letters are likely to be of the "convict at all cost" ilk that a free man justly despises.

Anonymous said...

Deals are made between lawyers ie: " Let me win this one and I'll let you win that other one " . Also there are corrupt Judges that will punish the defendant if he has a hard-on for the defense attorney . There's no justice , just us .

Anonymous said...

Most people who live in this politically-defined region known as "America" cannot fathom being subjugated, beaten or tortured by people in government who speak the same tongue as they do. They'll get used to the idea.

-Sans Authoritas

Anonymous said...

Once again, Mr. Grigg demonstrates why he is a national treasure! This was one of your best pieces, yet, and you wrote really good stuff every day.

Wade was (and still is) a disgrace, a blot on everything that is decent. You are right in that he was a coward, a sniveling rodent who used his position to bully others. Texas has its share of such people, Ronnie Earle of Travis County being another one like that.

Thank you for speaking out for people who are not popular or who fall between the cracks. This is one of the few blogs out there that truly deals with justice.

D.L. said...

MoT I concur, sort of...there are three kinds of people: some without a conscience, period (oligarchs, illuminists, their henchmen, lackeys, and wannabes...the power elites); some that have a conscience but have "cut it out" so to speak (the kind of folks who put Woodward in jail, and the kind of folks who put my husband in jail several years ago when told by Texas DPS as they were dragging him through broken window glass that he was "under arrest" for "resisting arrest" and no other charge!); and then there are folks with a conscience that, when they do something wrong their conscience bothers them...that is most of us, who don't seek power, prefer to be left alone, and either go along with the state of affairs or not.

Anonymous said...

"....and the kind of folks who put my husband in jail several years ago when told by Texas DPS as they were dragging him through broken window glass that he was "under arrest" for "resisting arrest" and no other charge!"....

That's a story in itself that bears being told.

Anonymous said...

"....and the kind of folks who put my husband in jail several years ago when told by Texas DPS as they were dragging him through broken window glass that he was "under arrest" for "resisting arrest" and no other charge!"....

That's a story in itself that bears being told.

Anonymous said...

What a shame the state of this formerly great republic. Even before the rule of the dyslexic chimperor shrub we were heading down the pipes with loud flushing sound. The prison part of our Prison Industrial Military Political (PIMP)complex gets paid off of bodies incarcerated. Innocent? Can't afford competent legal counsel? Tough sh1t there is profits to be made, slave labor to be exploited.

Anonymous said...

There seem to be two kinds of psychopaths in our society: "Law Breakers" who prey on people and "Law Enforcers" that prey on people. There is no difference between criminals and the so-called government. Both have an abysmal opinion of human nature and no regard for the dignity of their fellow man. They despise everyone equally. Meanwhile, we the people suffer the collateral damage as these two groups of shit-sniffers fight their power wars among themselves. A pox on both their houses. May they all rot in hell.

Anonymous said...

As a former prosecutor and professor of criminal law, I commend William Norman Grigg for writing this fine article, the Innocence Project for diligently pursuing the truth, Judge Stoltz and Prosecutor Watkins for being open to the truth, and most of all, James Woodward for valuing honor above liberty.
Based on my experience, I believe very few policemen and prosecutors would intentionally frame a person they knew to be innocent. But frequently in the course of an investigation and prosecution, they become so fixated on the suspect's guilt that they close their eyes to evidence of innocence, and if they can "improve" the truth a little to ensure that a guilty person doesn't get away, they sometimes yield to the temptation to do that.
I teach part-time at the local police academy, and I always tell my cadets that their duty is not to convict someone but rather to find the truth, and that when an innocent person is convicted, only one person benefits -- the real criminal, who is still out on the street committing more crimes.
I note, also, that our criminal justice system simply cannot acknowledge the possibility that someone may have been wrongfully convicted. If you're willing to lie and admit guilt, you can often negotiate a plea; but if you tell the truth and insist you're not guilty, they'll throw the book at you. If you lie and admit guilt in prison and fake repentance, you're likely to get probation; but if you tell the truth and insist on your innocence, you're not a good candidate for probation because you "haven't faced up to your crime."
As a veteran conservative activist, I believe in law and order. But law and order means the police and prosecutors have to obey the law, just like the rest of us.
And as a retired Air Force officer and American patriot, I hate to admit that "the land of the free and the home of the brave" has the highest percentage of its population in prison (one out of every 99 adults) of any nation in the world. This is the greatest country on earth, but something in our criminal justice system isn't working very well.

Molon Labe! said...

I am so very glad Henry Wade is dead, for it saves me the effort of wishing him so.

Eichmanns, Eichmanns, everywhere. Has corporate ladder-climbing as a meme really penetrated so far as to corrupt prosecutors, too?

Rhetorical question.

Anonymous said...

seem to be two kinds of psychopaths in our society

Anonymous said...

This is great info to know.