Update: This expose’ was originally written a year ago for Texas Monthly and then D Magazine. It was the product of months of research into thousands of court documents and interrogation video. It engulfed my entire life. In the end, neither of them decided to publish it. Instead, this case will be discussed in the upcoming first season of The American Justice Podcast with director/filmmaker Scott Poggensee and several other forms of media in the year 2020. Some may say that our work is finished…but it’s only just beginning. Soon, everyone will know the name Brandon Woodruff.
Gay-ilty: A Conviction of Fiction
By C. Derick Miller, freelance gonzo journalist
I was still fairly new at the law enforcement game when introduced to Brandon Woodruff. The random whispers of “faggot” and “murderer” from my co-workers led me to believe I was about to witness a horror show in the making the second I gained courage enough to peer inside the holding cell. Instead, what I saw was a frightened, confused young man wondering where his life took the wrong turn. If the residents of Hunt County, Texas were graciously thanking the boys with badges for removing a potential nightmare from their quiet streets, they were surely exaggerating for the sake of media attention. Then again, looks can be deceiving. I proceeded with caution.
Over the next couple of years, I had the pleasure of interacting with Brandon Woodruff regularly whether it was through a classification hearing or casual trip to the courthouse. He’d topped my personal list of positive individuals to speak with while navigating that dingy dungeon of despair I called a job. Not once did I ever detect a hint of the gruesome killer everyone claimed him to be, even when his fellow inmates pushed his limits in unspeakable, legendary acts of incarcerated behavior. Brandon seemed to take it all in stride because he was convinced of his innocence…and all dark clouds have a silver lining. Unfortunately, that shimmer of hope never reared its face during the Woodruff trial and a young man was shipped off to the penitentiary for the rest of his natural life. I never knew the details of the conviction and lost all contact with him due to a career promotion. Eventually, the young man’s name slipped my mind, but his smile never did.
Recently, the Brandon Woodruff case has come back into focus by way of Scott Poggensee’s upcoming documentary film Texas Justice: Brandon Woodruff. I was granted access to thousands of court documents and hours of video taped interviews after meeting Scott during a work-in-progress screening. What you’re about to read is summarized disgust in the form of an expose’ born via in-depth research into the facts and evidence, or lack thereof. Be fearful for your rights as citizens. The crafty magicians are everywhere…and we, as a society, have elected them to positions of great power.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m about to tell you a story of a young gay man convicted of Capital Murder in small-town Texas without the benefit of any direct evidence. You read that right. There is not today, nor has there ever been, any evidence that directly links Brandon Woodruff to the murder of his parents.
Let’s start at the beginning…
Dennis and Norma Woodruff were brutally killed within the comfort of their own home in October 2005. Dennis exhibited no wounds associated with a struggle, but his wife fought bravely against the aggressors until her final breath. Defensive wounds caused by a sharp object covered her bloody remains as well as an entrance and exit wound in her hand from a bullet she attempted to stop out of desperation. Within the grasp of one hand were strands of blonde hairs which have yet to be identified as of this writing. They both died violently on the family sofa.
A call was made to the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office when the bodies were discovered by someone investigating the Woodruffs’ lack of contact. When the home was entered by law enforcement, officers stumbled and bumbled throughout the crime scene in absolute darkness. Their logic? They wanted the crime scene video to reflect the same conditions in which they believed the murderer(s) committed the crime. The lights were off upon their arrival to the location therefore the killers acted in total darkness. Potential evidence was accidentally moved and tripped over throughout the entire video, or at least what you can see of it in an eerie, night vision illuminated farce of professionalism.
Resting in his Abilene, Texas college dorm room, Brandon was notified of the tragedy by a chaplain. He frantically journeyed two hundred miles back to his family for comfort and answers only to be confronted with accusations and tell-tale finger pointing by authorities. The driving force behind the warrant? If Brandon Dale Woodruff could display deception regarding his homosexual lifestyle, then he could display similar enigmas about his involvement with his parents’ murders. Texas Ranger Jeff Collins even agreed to this logic on the stand in the 354th District Court before the hammer was dropped on the case…and the jury took the bait. In a field of sheep, the casual wolf easily translates to monster when the durability of the tolerance fence is questioned. Unaware of the investigators’ silent agenda, the distraught young man freely placed any information available into the hands of law enforcement in hopes the responsible party would be brought to justice. Their eyes never left Brandon. He was arrested (with a hen-scratched warrant compiled, edited, and corrected countless times in a Kindergarten-esque lack of professionalism), his bond was set, and the media began to feed upon the tattered remnants of a life meant for greatness rather than infinite incarceration.
I, personally, remember that day well. Rumors spread within the jail that the Woodruff family was possibly in transit to post the ridiculously high bond assigned by the arraigning judge. I was instructed not to accept the bond by a superior officer and ordered to place a call to the powers that be if the situation should arrive. When I inquired about the legality of that scenario, the response I received placed the security of my employment into question. I put no blame on the Sergeant who gave the order since she was merely following orders as well. At the time, I’d never been in a similar situation, nor was I ever in that situation again during my career. It was unique, situational, and unethical in my mind. Even though the bond never came, that potential outcome haunts me to this day. My agreement to that act would’ve made me equally as criminal as the three hundred or so inmates who were sleeping with one eye opened behind the secure wall of the jail’s intake department. It angers me in hindsight.
Soon after, a parade of individuals occupied the interview rooms, feeding Ranger Collins everything he needed to appear successful in his capture. Former friend Mike Etherington (whose mother had called the Sheriff’s office earlier in the investigation with information about the murders before “murder” was made public as the cause of death. You can’t make this type of weirdness up, folks. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction!) claimed there were incriminating comments made on Brandon’s Myspace page that led him to believe Brandon was indeed guilty of murder. He claimed the Woodruff’s distraught son engaged in an online questionnaire and commented that he “hated his fucking parents” and “wished they would die”. Those particular social media comments were used as probable cause in the arrest warrant but Etherington recanted. He claimed the social media comments to be rumor after the fact, causing Ranger Collins to leave the interview room in anger.
In a show of dominance within the situation, Mike Etherington phoned friend Joe Hagaman in the Ranger’s absence to inform him of what was discussed with the investigators. The cameras are still rolling when he insists that Joe calm down. He appeared completely in control of the situation, stretching out comfortably in a ‘laid back’ position during the phone call. Did no one else in a position of authority watch these videos?
A fact came to light that a missing old west replica pistol had become missing from the home of a mutual friend at some point and, as of this writing, has still never been recovered. Although several potential suspects had access to this wall decoration, only one was blamed and pursued. Brandon. Welcome to small-town Texas, where potentially working murder instruments may be displayed as wall art and considered normalcy.
Next came the friends Joe Hagaman and Dustin Perry. From my observation, they were merely underlings in Mike Etherington’s circle and barely worthy of mention. The faces changed but the stories stayed the same. According to the duo, Brandon lived a secret homosexual lifestyle, planned on dropping out of college, and wanted his parents to die.
Since the murders, it’s been rumored by some that a few members of Brandon’s circle of friends secretly boasted interest in the Ku Klux Klan’s beliefs. What better way to get on the Klan’s radar than to assist with the murder of a homosexual’s parents? Farfetched in this day and age? Not quite. Many people wake up to recruitment letters and hate propaganda from the Klan in their yards and mailboxes on a semiannual basis in Hunt County. It’s still very much alive (but far from well) in the darkest corners of the American South.
The talks with Brandon’s sister Charla Woodruff were where the interview process took an interesting turn. She hysterically spun a tale of abuse at the hands of her father’s temper and claims that Brandon inherited that same temper. Then, things get really crazy. Charla (formerly a Sheriff’s Office investigator in Arkansas after her parents’ murders) reveals a past full of suicide attempts, self-inflicted violence, and drug use. The conversation began to leap all over the place with mentions of the Ku Klux Klan and unusual slang terminology all while Ranger Collins listened attentively without reaction to the lunatic rant. As a matter of personal observation, the Rangers demeanor during Charla’s interview is the polar opposite of the ones with Mike, Joe, and Dustin. Her shocking testimony gained not even a flinch of concern with Collins whereas his body language with the boys was animated, on edge, and near furious at times.
In a recorded college interview, Charla was asked what her attraction was to a career in law enforcement. She responded by saying that she’d always been fascinated with guns. She was the co-founder of a women’s sexual assault support group claiming she’d been raped at age six. Viewing the video, I began to feel sorry for her life and repeated tragedies only to learn she’d confessed to inventing the accusation while hospitalized in a mental institution. She was released from psychiatric care under the condition of not inflicting harm on herself or her family again. Had Charla displayed violent tendencies toward her mother and father in the past? It no longer mattered.
The death penalty was completely removed from the table for Brandon when the trial began. According to transcripts, this angered potential jurors. Many wanted to know why they wouldn’t have the opportunity to throw the proverbial switch themselves if the suspect was found guilty. On many occasions, they expressed their condemnation of homosexual behavior and tended to focus on Brandon’s personal activities rather than the crime itself. This was mostly due to the fact the prosecution threw the student’s lifestyle into the faces of potential jurors with each opportunity available. How do you invent a murderer in Northeast Texas? Tell a panel of God-fearing family folk they’ll get the chance to roast a gay man! Time and again, many of them expressed their personal dislike of homosexual behavior but seemed to skip over where they’d place ‘murderer’ on their Sunday top ten list. Fate would select twelve of Hunt County’s most non-focused spiritualists and placed them as gatekeepers to the young man’s future. Unfortunately, this isn’t the most heinous portion of Brandon’s trial.
Assistant District Attorney Keli Aiken (now a Hunt County District Judge) requested copies of all recorded phone conversations from the Hunt County Jail. According to jail administration, this included all of Brandon’s attorney/client conversations as well! When the defense finally got their hands on the requested phone recordings, they threw up a red flag when their own voices were recognized. The media circus descended on the county seat of Greenville, Texas once more as claims of constitutional rights violations flew from all directions. Again, fearful citizens of the United States of America, this atrocity gained the Assistant District Attorney a slap on the wrist and a voter induced promotion nearly a decade later. As viewed in the work-in-progress version of Scott Poggensee’s upcoming documentary film Texas Justice: Brandon Woodruff, District Judge Keli Aiken is approached by the filmmaker during a public appearance. She’s ironically participating in an Independence Day reading of the United States Declaration of Independence. When the anonymous director inquired as to what the Constitution personally meant to her, she responded with what sounded like a well-rehearsed Google definition. Then, the camera man revealed his identity and agenda to the honorable elect, which caused her to run into the safe arms of courthouse security. There’s obviously no need to defend yourself once you’ve successfully placed the laziest choice of suspects behind bars. No, you’ve allowed your citizens another night’s worth of peaceful sleep by removing an evil, teenage homosexual from breathing heavily at their window sills. Why explain?
To the shock of many, the incident was swept beneath the local lumpy rug of justice. Two seasoned prosecutors from Austin rode into Hunt County causing a delay which lasted more than a year. Once they finally settled, a scenario which resembled the ease of a television court drama began to play out where the above-mentioned justice was slaughtered beyond recognition.
Experts of all kinds were placed on the stand by the defense and quickly dismissed regardless of their credentials or the unrealistic circumstances they implied were taking place within the 354th District Court. Since no ‘smoking gun’ existed in the case, the outcome rested in the lap of circumstantial totality. The lost replica firearm was never recovered but it was clear the Woodruffs were killed by a large caliber weapon. To the prosecution and jury, only this particular large caliber gun resided on the planet Earth and it was definitely responsible for destroying the lives of Dennis and Norma Woodruff. A bullet recovered from within the family sofa was never compared to those which accompanied the replica weapon’s holster and belt. Brandon was present in the home of the missing gun the weekend of the murders but so were other potential suspects. Using this lack of logic, the prosecutors claimed the non-existent weapon to be the culprit. Then, they used the same magical formula to explain the stab wounds. The jury was awestruck by the elementary display of illusion which played out before their very eyes.
An eighteen-inch replica dagger was discovered in the Woodruff barn by a family member a couple of years into Brandon’s incarceration. It was somehow never found during several sweeps by the Texas Rangers and Sheriff’s Department because it wasn’t laying out in plain sight with a flashing neon arrow for assistance. You may think I’m being harsh, but one Sheriff’s Deputy claimed on the stand that it would’ve been too difficult to use a broom and trash bags to clear the clutter of the barn and find the weapon. Simple cleaning exercises were beyond the worth of Brandon Woodruff’s life. Although no evidence was discovered on the knife by forensic investigators during their initial testing, they were instructed by the Texas Rangers to test again in one specific spot on the weapon. As though it was a scripted event, a single drop of Dennis Woodruff’s blood was discovered underneath a decorative skull on the weapon’s handle. One solitary drop in a messy double homicide in the most convenient of hiding places was all it took to send the already biased jury into a feeding frenzy at the hands of Austin’s sharp shooting prosecutors. If the weapon in question was used to murder two individuals, why was there no co-mingled blood? Other than the solitary, clean drop of blood belonging to Dennis Woodruff, no other physical evidence existed. No one in the jury box cared.
According to Dr. Joye Carter, a forensics expert whose credentials boast Chief Medical Examiner for both Harris County, TX (Houston) and Washington, D.C., it was an impossibility that the newly discovered weapon was responsible for the stab wounds on Dennis and Norma Woodruff. The wounds on both victims displayed hilt marks from the handle of the murder weapon at five and three quarters inches deep but the replica dagger was eighteen inches in length! How exactly did twelve inches of blade disappear in order to cause markings from the suggested murder weapon’s hilt? On top of that, the blade of the recovered knife exhibited a sharpened edge on either side which would’ve left a distinct ‘diamond’ shaped wound. The wounds on the victims were clearly ‘D’ shaped as though the weapon used in the killing possessed only one sharpened edge. The well-credentialed expert used the word ‘impossible’ several times in her testimony. The prosecution and jury cared little about length, hilt marks, and stab wound details and only saw the conveniently discovered drop of blood as a way to put the trial to rest once and for all. They deliberated for five hours on whether or not to place a potentially innocent, young man behind bars for the rest of his days and returned home to smiling families and safe beds. One juror admits to being bullied by the remaining lot when attempting to speak logically during the process. Outnumbered, the lone standing realist gave in to their demands out of fear and sealed the deal on the State prosecutor’s ridiculous song and dance. Brandon was found guilty for the murder of his parents by legal definition. By the definition of the evidence placed before the eyes of the small town, conservative public, he was only found guilty of being ‘different’.
A decade has passed since the circus left Hunt County. In those ten years, Defense Attorney Katherine Ferguson claims to still lay awake at night wondering whether or not there was something more she could’ve done to save Brandon Woodruff’s freedom. Although the claimed hard facts of the case were nearing the realm of imaginary, the results of the trial itself are a reality. It’s been said that you can’t throw a rock in Hunt County without striking a church and the religious affiliations of the collective masses allowed twelve meticulously selected individuals the opportunity to flaunt those beliefs. The Lord’s Will was done by incarcerating an innocent homosexual man while the true killer(s) still remain at large, potentially occupying the same street as you or I.
After the young man’s fate was sealed, body language and human behavior expert Susan Constantine, highly regarded around the world for her interpretation of cases such as Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, and the Michael Jackson case against Dr. Conrad Murray, was allowed to view the videotaped interviews. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and multiple certifications in investigating and interrogative interviewing, cognitive interviewing, and analytic interviewing. Constantine studied each piece of film in hopes of detecting deception within the faces and postures of the suspects. Her conclusions? First of all, from a professional standpoint, the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Rangers should ask for a refund on their Investigation 101 classes. Brandon’s interviews were barely interviews at all. Their questions led him down a pre-determined pathway. After that’s established, Constantine goes on to say the convicted showed signs of honesty whereas former friend Mike Etherington revealed himself to be someone with something to hide. Constantine also believed Mike showed major signs of admiration and envy toward Brandon’s lifestyle creating resentment. He entered the interview room with every intention of painting Brandon as the murderer. At one point in the transcript of her interpretation, she compared his responses to that of “Pinocchio” and that he was “flat out lying”. Then, she performed an analysis of sister Charla. This is the point of the tapes in which the squirming begins.
During her interview, Charla describes ‘playing’ both of her parents on a regular basis. She admits to being a manipulator and, according to accredited, professional analysis, her body language oozes deception and concealment. The sister went on to display several signs of delusional psychosis or even being on the verge of a potential psychotic breakdown. Add all of this to her admitted suicide attempts and documented mental instabilities and you can’t help but wonder how she was ever able to obtain employment as a peace officer. Susan Constantine concludes her analysis by stating the investigators were too poorly trained to even recognize Brandon’s truth or Charla’s lies.
The information presented in this article only scratches the surface of the incident, investigation, and trial. It could easily be translated into a full-length novel or perhaps a televised miniseries. Still, there wouldn’t be enough room or time to contain every misstep. For what remains of Brandon’s loyal friends and family, their only focus is the potential excavation of truth.
As of this writing, Brandon’s Supreme Court appeal has been accepted for consideration. Since his initial incarceration, he’s passed two polygraph examinations with flying colors showing no signs of deception whatsoever. To allow further intrigue into the potential innocence of the convicted murderer, the credentials of the examiners who administered the polygraphs were once within the employ of the Queen of England. In addition, the film directed by documentarian Scott Poggensee is being considered for viewing at upcoming film festivals nationwide. With any luck, a viewer of influence will take the information presented to new heights and give both the accused young man and the victims the final justice they deserve.
As for my involvement? I’m no one. A simple writer with an interest in exposing the truth of the potentially innocent and the wrong doings by those in positions of power. One of my few remaining friends within law enforcement recently warned me to watch my back, which leads me to believe my interests in this case have been a recent topic of discussion around the Sheriff’s Office. I suppose that would explain the strange vehicles parked outside my home as of late which quickly depart upon my exit of the residence.
Originally, I’d partnered with a Private Investigator/Paralegal to assist me in my research for this expose’. Everything proceeded according to plan during the initial stages, but she soon began to participate less as time progressed. Finally, she confessed to being professionally threatened but considered those threats to be consequentially empty. Soon after, she was “black-listed” from performing her duties in the courtroom due to her continued assistance with this project.
This is indeed not the fame I wished for upon my decision to pursue a writing career. I feel as though the truth must be told regardless of consequence. I have no choice but to sleep a little lighter until we all find out if a sense of justice will be served for Brandon, if the true suspects are found and prosecuted, or if he remains gay-ilty indefinitely.
Are you frightened yet?
For more information on this case and to show your support, please visit FreeBrandon.org .