This past week, one of Florida’s more bizarre self-defense cases came to an end. On Labor Day weekend in 2012, William Woodward, now 50 years of age, shot three of his neighbors, killing two, after a series of altercations.
Woodward, pleading self-defense, claimed that he had endured relentless harassment, as well as actual threats to himself and his daughter. The feud originally began when Woodward called the police over some missing packages from his front porch, asking officers to question his neighbors.
Videos and audio from Woodward’s own home-surveillance cameras were central to the case. According to Florida Today, “The taunting heard on the video during the weeks leading up to the shooting is vile and includes things like wishing Woodward’s 12-year-old daughter would get raped … and other sexual vulgarities.”
Woodward’s wife Barbara offered emotional testimony detailing the harassment, threats and bullying from the neighbors that her family endured before her husband “finally snapped” from stress. “They would yell obscenities at my daughter as she walked from the bus stop,” she said. “And then they said they would rape my daughter and get all the neighbors to participate. They said that they were going to burn down our house. I took the threats very seriously. I had no doubt they were capable of doing it.”
Prosecutors argued that Woodward should have just called the police that night instead of taking matters into his own hands. But police had been called to the neighborhood numerous times, with no resolution.
In fact, Defense Attorney Robert Berry said that Woodward had requested an injunction against the neighbors. But at the hearing, Judge Dean Moxley dismissed the matter without even taking testimony from either side, saying in so many words, “Quit wasting our officers’ time.”
Defense Attorney Greg Eisenmenger noted that video shows Woodward’s neighbors doing things like shining a floodlight onto his property, blasting loud music and yelling taunts, insults and curses at his home for several hours, late into the night of the shooting. Woodward is an Army veteran and is claiming that PTSD contributed to his actions.
However, in his own recorded words from the night of the shooting, Woodward describes himself as a “warrior … a hunter and a killer.” Florida Assistant State Attorney Bill Respess added that Woodward “describes the people he shoots as his prey, and that he’s at war with them,” and points out that video verifies that Woodward fired multiple shots, reloaded, then fired “another loud barrage of bullets.”
If ever there was a case that illustrates how utterly complex and unpredictable self-defense can be, this is it. For starters, the victims are allegedly about as unsympathetic as they come: vile, obnoxious, even threatening someone’s children — all supported by actual video.
Then there’s the defendant: a father, a husband and a military veteran, potentially with PTSD, who has seen his family harassed and threatened for weeks. Sure, most of us can identify with him. But were his actions justified?
The jury said no. On Wednesday, William Woodward was found guilty of second-degree murder in the deaths of Gary Hembree and Roger Picior and attempted second-degree murder of Bruce “Tim” Blake.
Sadly, there are no real winners in this case. The only lesson here is how easily disagreements with neighbors can escalate into deadly violence. Perhaps we should all take a sober look at how we deal with our own neighbors.