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Tags anti-gay bias , blood , dagger , mitochondrial DNA

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Old 21st May 2022, 12:14 PM   #1
Chris_Halkides
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Brandon Woodruff conviction for murder

Brandon Woodruff was convicted in 2009 of murdering his parents in 2005. I was unfamiliar with this case until today. Arguing for the soundness of the conviction is the finding of a dagger (claimed to have his father's blood, but see below) in the parents previous home that might have been in Mr. Woodruff's possession. Arguing against is the lack of a motive and a tight timeline. The fact that both a knife and a gun were used in the killings argues against a single killer.

Mr. Woodruff's homosexuality may have swayed some jurors, as noted in this ABC story. From another link, "Poggensee said a phrase repeated over and over at Woodruff’s trial was, “If he could lie about being gay, he could lie about killing his parents.” But that ignores the fact that Woodruff was out to his father, who accepted him. And it’s not clear if he was out to his mother yet."

From the second link: "And the timeline devised by investigators gave Woodruff about 14 minutes inside his parents’ home. That’s 14 minutes to overpower both his mother and father, then clean all the blood off of himself, leaving none in the bathroom. And Woodruff would have to have cleaned himself up so well that no DNA evidence was found in the bathroom, nor was any found in the car or on his clothes. No DNA evidence was found on the knife they allege Woodruff used in the attack, either."

The dagger has some problems. From the denial of appeal document, Brandon had been attending Abilene Christian University and had kept a dagger in his dormitory room.6 When the room was searched after the murders, the police did not discover the dagger. Kathy Lach, Brandon‘s aunt, discovered the dagger in the barn at Dennis and Norma‘s residence in Heath, Texas,7 two and a half years after the murders. The dagger was approximately sixteentoeighteen inches long with a twelve-inch blade. Eric Gentry admitted he had previously told the Texas Rangers that the knife blade of Brandon‘s dagger was only about sixinches long, but testified he was absolutely certain the dagger introduced into evidence was Brandon‘s. A spot of Dennis ‘blood was discovered under a skull located on the guard of the knife. Although the police searched the barn after the murders, they did not find the dagger." I don't know the resolution to the paradox of how it was claimed to be Dennis's blood if there was no DNA.

Hair in one of his mother's hands was not tested (IIUC there was also hair in her other hand, which was tested). Mitochondrial DNA testing alone cannot distinguish whether it came from her or Brandon, but it would almost certainly give a different result for the murderer, assuming that it is not Brandon. Autosomal testing is more discriminating, if it can be done. The Texas Innocence Project has taken up his case.
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Old 21st May 2022, 03:20 PM   #2
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more on one of the alleged murder weapons and the time line

Here is a bit more from the denial of the appeal concerning the knife or dagger and the wounds:
"Kathy Lach, Brandon‘s aunt, discovered the dagger in the barn at Dennis and Norma‘s residence in Heath, Texas,7 two and a half years after the murders." The barn had already been searched IIUC. "The State‘s expert admitted the wounds might have been caused by a kitchen knife."

“Carter believed some of the wounds had abrasions which indicated the knife was driven into the body until the knife guard made contact with the skin. The deepest stab wound was five and three-fourths of an inch deep. Thus, Brandon‘s dagger, which had a twelve-inch blade, could not have been driven into the wound to the guard. Because Brandon‘s dagger had two sharp edges and a twelve-inch blade, much longer than the deepest wound, Carter testified Brandon‘s dagger was not the murder weapon.

“While Carter‘s testimony is strong evidence contrary to the jury‘s verdict, it is the jury‘s duty to weigh the testimony and resolve conflicting testimony; a rational person could have rejected Carter‘s testimony. Carter only examined pictures of the deceased and the proper tests were not performed to determine if the murder weapon had a single blade or a double blade.”
EDT
"Cell phone records indicate Brandon had passed Lake Ray Hubbard and was proceeding into Dallas by 10:45 p.m.20…The defense argues that Brandon would not have killed his parents until after 9:35 p.m. because he called Morgan at 9:32 p.m. This call went to Morgan‘s voicemail. Morgan then called Brandon at 9:41 p.m., and the call lasted three minutes. Brandon made or received twenty-five calls between 8:50 p.m. and 11:22 p.m. Although nine calls were made to Brandon‘s cell phone between 9:32 p.m. and 10:34 p.m., Brandon did not make any calls during this time period. The State alleges these calls went to voicemail and argues Brandon was too busy committing murder to answer his cell phone…At trial, the defense argued Brandon would not have taken time out to talk to Morgan while in the middle of murdering his parents. A rational juror could have concluded Brandon had sufficient time to murder his parents.” Brandon would also have had to clean up during this time period. There is also testimony from a Mr. Lunz which might nibble a few minutes from the 10:34 PM window.

On the whole the state's case is underwhelming.
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Old 22nd May 2022, 04:45 AM   #3
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The evidence certainly seems weak. I think the problem is that although in theory there is a presumption of innocence, and the prosecution have to prove guilt; in reality juries assume the person being tried is guilty and the defence have to prove innocence.

All this discussion of the timing, the depth of wounds, lack of motive, and phone calls makes me think of another thread.
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Old 22nd May 2022, 08:14 PM   #4
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Sixth amendment violation

"The defense emphasizes a number of deficiencies in investigating the crime. The State failed to fingerprint many items in the Royse City house, failed to perform DNA testing of the blood stains on the carpet and bathroom sink, and failed to perform DNA testing on the hairs found in Norma‘s hand.27 Many items were seized, but not logged and stored in an office. These deficiencies, though, are not sufficient to prevent a rational juror from concluding, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Brandon committed the murders." Court of Appeals. A rational juror would want to know whose blood was on the carpet and bathroom sink.

"Brandon was in jail awaiting trial, the Hunt County District Attorney‘s Office instructed the Hunt County Sheriff‘s Office to record Brandon‘s telephone conversations with his attorneys and provide the district attorney‘s office with copies of the recordings...The State does not challenge the trial court‘s conclusion that Brandon‘s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated...It is beyond dispute that the actions of the Hunt County District Attorney‘s Office constituted a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However, the existence of an infringement on this right does not always justify the extreme remedy of dismissal...On Exhibit 1B, the defense counsel‘s secretary and Brandon discuss how Etherington lied in his statement to the police...Although not for lack of trying, the Hunt County District Attorney‘s Office failed to discover anything of value when it violated Brandon‘s constitutional rights."

This is astonishing; Mr. Etheringon is an alternative suspect. The denial of appeal document later stated, "Etherington committed a number of suspicious acts. A number of witnesses testified Etherington and Brandon were in conflict. Gentry testified Brandon and Etherington were not getting along. Williams testified Norma suspected Etherington of poisoning Brandon‘s dog." This document states, "The defense attorney‘s office frequently reminded Brandon the telephone calls might be recorded and on a few occasions declined to discuss certain topics with Brandon over the telephone." Sounds like the defense was chilled. The more I read this denial of appeal, the more problematic this case becomes.
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Old 23rd May 2022, 12:30 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
The evidence certainly seems weak. I think the problem is that although in theory there is a presumption of innocence, and the prosecution have to prove guilt; in reality juries assume the person being tried is guilty and the defence have to prove innocence.

All this discussion of the timing, the depth of wounds, lack of motive, and phone calls makes me think of another thread.
Several threads to be fair.

Juries seem to be as ridiculous as lawyers turned judges when figuring science and dare I say it, common sense.
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Old 23rd May 2022, 07:42 AM   #6
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he "might have" done it

From the same denial of appeal document, "The evidence suggests that the missing gun might have been the murder weapon and that Brandon might have stolen it. Dennis and Norma were killed by large caliber bullets. The missing gun was a .45 caliber revolver, and a .45 caliber bullet would qualify as a large caliber bullet...Robert Fazio, the defense‘s ballistics expert, criticized the State‘s expert for not measuring the bullets removed from the deceased." It sounds like the recovered bullets were not actually measured regarding their caliber, which is a remarkable oversight. The revolver went missing at some indeterminate time and was not ever recovered, if I am not mistaken.
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Old 24th May 2022, 02:09 PM   #7
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Hand wounds

Originally Posted by Planigale View Post
All this discussion of the timing, the depth of wounds, lack of motive, and phone calls makes me think of another thread.
I had the same thought and one other. A person using a knife for the first time often wounds himself or herself on the hand (Rudy Guede did). I wonder whether any person of interest had such wounds.
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Old 26th May 2022, 06:47 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post

"Brandon was in jail awaiting trial, the Hunt County District Attorney‘s Office instructed the Hunt County Sheriff‘s Office to record Brandon‘s telephone conversations with his attorneys and provide the district attorney‘s office with copies of the recordings...The State does not challenge the trial court‘s conclusion that Brandon‘s Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated...It is beyond dispute that the actions of the Hunt County District Attorney‘s Office constituted a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However, the existence of an infringement on this right does not always justify the extreme remedy of dismissal...
This sort of thing really pisses me off. They will jail drug addicts in the name of deterrence but play no harm no foul with this sort of staggering misconduct when in this case deterrence would be effective.

The case being dismissed and the prosecutors involved being disbarred would be somewhat proportionate and put a quick end to this sort of thing. The state running amok with no consequences is a way bigger problem than a whole sack of murderers going free.
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Old 26th May 2022, 02:45 PM   #9
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juries should step up

Suddenly,

I agree. I would also wish that the jury, when presented with evidence of any sort of...ethically challenged...behavior would also decide that BARD had not been attained. That would send a message as well.
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Old 28th May 2022, 09:01 AM   #10
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Witness testimony

There are several items that often appear in wrongful convictions. The ones that I can think of at the moment are motives that don't entirely make sense, timelines that border on being impossibly tight, and witnesses changing their testimony. So far I have seen two out of three in the Woodruff case. If it transpired that an important witnesses changed his or her testimony, I would come down from the fence on the question of whether or not Mr. Woodruff is factually innocent. Even as it stands, I don't believe that he should have been convicted.
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Old 28th May 2022, 03:14 PM   #11
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Just from a quick look, it sounds as though the police pitched on a suspect early and didn't investigate alternatives or consider exculpatory evidence due to tunnel vision. I'm also not clear what the motive was supposed to be.
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Old 29th May 2022, 07:08 AM   #12
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tunnel vision and anti-gay prejudice

I am not entirely clear on the motive, myself. I seem to recall the suggestion that Brandon's coming out to his parents was an issue. However, my understanding is that he was out to his father (but perhaps not to his mother), and that his father was concerned about AIDS but that was it. Brandon was also doing poorly in his college classes, and he might have been concerned about losing their financial support. There is also the possibility that Brandon wanted the insurance money. "Woodruff’s supporters have countered that prosecutors presented no evidence to show any conflict ever existed between parents and son...Among those who’ve read Crawford’s book since its release in May is Katherine Ferguson, one of Woodruff’s defense lawyers. “I am the attorney who tried the case for Brandon,” Ferguson wrote in an online review of the book. “Mr. Crawford has done an excellent job of setting forth facts—not speculation or prejudice—that show Brandon Woodruff is innocent.”" link.

Plenty of children flunk out of school, but most don't kill their parents over it. Ditto regarding coming out. I agree about tunnel vision.
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Old 11th June 2022, 06:27 AM   #13
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indictment on little evidence

I am almost finished reading the book Railroaded, by Philip Crawford, Jr. At the time of his indictment, there was no murder weapon, no eyewitness, and no confession. Under leading questioning from a police officer, Mr. Woodruff gave incorrect times for his whereabouts on Sunday evening, probably when the murder occurred. How they could have even indicted someone on such slender evidence is beyond me. Moreover, by setting bail at $1,000,000, this had the effect of putting Mr. Woodruff in jail for several years, where it is undisputed that his sixth amendment right was violated.

Here is a link which gives some text from an interview he did in 2018. "The prosecution theorized that Woodruff killed his parents after they confronted their son about him being gay, his failing grades in college and his fledgling porn career. The prosecutors also said Woodruff had motive in the form of a life insurance policy his parents owned that named him as a beneficiary, which would have let him continue his party life without interference." Brandon had been out to his father for at least some months before the murders took place.
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Old 13th June 2022, 07:01 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by Chris_Halkides View Post
I am almost finished reading the book Railroaded, by Philip Crawford, Jr. At the time of his indictment, there was no murder weapon, no eyewitness, and no confession. Under leading questioning from a police officer, Mr. Woodruff gave incorrect times for his whereabouts on Sunday evening, probably when the murder occurred. How they could have even indicted someone on such slender evidence is beyond me. Moreover, by setting bail at $1,000,000, this had the effect of putting Mr. Woodruff in jail for several years, where it is undisputed that his sixth amendment right was violated.

Here is a link which gives some text from an interview he did in 2018. "The prosecution theorized that Woodruff killed his parents after they confronted their son about him being gay, his failing grades in college and his fledgling porn career. The prosecutors also said Woodruff had motive in the form of a life insurance policy his parents owned that named him as a beneficiary, which would have let him continue his party life without interference." Brandon had been out to his father for at least some months before the murders took place.
I reviewed a case like this once that was very similar except in that one they also didn't have a body.
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