31 shots fired, 2 killed in Florida 'Stand Your Ground' case
06/01/2016 5:06 pm PDT
UPDATE Jan. 31, 2018: After a full day of deliberating, a Brevard County jury found William Woodward guilty of second-degree murder.
The jury weighed three felonies in the death penalty case against Woodward: two counts of first-degree premeditated murder with a firearm and one charge of attempted first-degree murder.
The jury found Woodward guilty of the lesser charges of two counts of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.
June 1, 2016:A Florida man who police say killed two people turns the "Stand Your Ground" law into a lightning rod case with a dramatic admission in court.
You're about to witness a triple shooting. A man in full camouflage gear crawls across the grass. Police say he's armed to the teeth, sneaking up on his prey and unloading his weapon.
Dramatic surveillance video shows the gunfire in Titusville, Florida, with people running for cover. The shooting left two best friends dead and their neighbor horribly injured.
What happened on that hot summer night when Gary Hembree and Roger Picior were shot dead?
Gary and his girlfriend Kim were hosting a holiday cookout and it seemed like the whole neighborhood was there to party. Everyone except Gary's old friend Billy Woodward. Their friendship had turned sour.
Gary's son Corey Hembree says his dad and Billy, an Army veteran, had a major falling out over something as minor as duct tape.
In the weeks before the party their war of words escalated. Gary turned Billy in for raising chickens. Billy, who says he has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) claims Gary and his friends taunted him.
Gary's mom Jeanie Huppert took Crime Watch Daily back to the shooting scene, demonstrating how cops described her son's bloody and horrific death.
"He went over and shot Gary and Gary fell to the ground," said Jeanie. "Then he went back to Roger and took his foot and flipped him over, flipped his body over and knelt down and then shot Roger a couple more times. Gary yelled again, he was still alive. And he yelled again for the kids to run and then he went back over and he just stood over him and he just, he just emptied his gun on Gary."
Police say Billy Woodward fired 31 shots during the spree, more rounds than his 9 mm Beretta held, so he had to reload.
"He had 17 bullets in him. He had 29 entry and exit wounds," said Jeanie. "When my husband and I went to the funeral home to do the services I wanted to kiss him on his forehead because he never left me without a kiss, and they told me no. His head was blown off, part of his head was gone, no wonder. I think his feet was the only thing that wasn't shot."
Gary's next door neighbor Tim Blake was shot numerous times and survived.
Police arrested Woodward without incident, and in the interrogation room he tells the detective his account of what led up to the shooting.
"We've been tormented for the last month by these people. And they've been tormenting my parents, making threats against them," Woodward says in the recording.
But Gary's son Corey claims the tormenting went both ways.
"Billy was looking out his window with binoculars over toward us, we sat down and were looking over there to see when he would stop looking at us, but he never did, he was just watching us the whole time," said Corey.
Just days before the shooting both men were face to face in court, each trying to get a restraining order.
Woodward blames his behavior on the stress he says he got from combat during the first Gulf War.
"Judge, I apologize for my outbursts," said Woodward. "I am a mentally disabled veteran who is medicated, who suffered a head injury and combat stress, and I don't control my actions very well."
The judge denied both their requests.
Woodward's attorney, Greg Eisenmenger, is making a sensational claim about why his client asked for that restraining order.
"I'm talking about a month of domestic terrorism," said Eisenmenger. "We're talking about threats to burn down their home, rape their daughter, to hire people to attack them, and it virtually happened on a daily basis right up until the night this finally accumulated."
Moments after that hearing over restraining orders, both men ended up in the courthouse parking lot where a violent argument erupted.
According to the police report, Woodward said "Arrest me, I just hit him." Cops did just that, charging him with battery and releasing him on his own recognizance.
Five days later Woodward would be under arrest again. This time it was serious.
Woodward wore a bulletproof vest at his arraignment. He was charged with two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder. He pleaded not guilty.
And Woodward had one more bullet in his legal arsenal: The admitted killer immediately demands a special hearing. He was about to claim self-defense, saying the shooting is justified based on the Florida "Stand Your Ground" law.
People in the courtroom are on the edge of their seats as murder suspect Billy Woodward takes the stand. He admitted he shot and killed his neighbors, Gary Hembree and Roger Picior.
But this isn't testimony at the murder trial. Woodward asked for a special court hearing to determine whether he can claim immunity from prosecution under Florida's controversial "Stand Your Ground" law.
That means if you're in fear of serious bodily injury you have the right to stand your ground and defend your life.
Despite admitting he pumped 31 bullets into his victims, slithering across the driveway in what he calls a military-type attack, Woodward is saying he acted in self defense.
The killings rocked the tight knit neighborhood in Titusville, Florida, across the river from the Kennedy Space Center.
Woodward tells the judge he killed in self-defense, claiming he overheard Gary planning to kill him and his family. He says he became concerned when he saw something burning across the street, thinking Gary was lighting Molotov cocktails to throw at his house.
"They were now coming to the house to dispatch with myself, my wife, my children, and at that point, yes, that was the point I had to take action because I could not let my children die," Woodward said.
But in the last picture ever taken of Gary, he's burning palm fronds, not Molotov cocktails.
Woodward is a disabled Army veteran. He says he developed PTSD from serving in the first Gulf War. His dramatic testimony sounds like a soldier's description of a combat zone, explaining why he fired so many bullets.
Surveillance video shows Woodward in full camouflage, crawling across his lawn like it is a battlefield, sneaking up on Gary's party. Woodward says he started what he calls his mission to Gary's house after he heard a loud bang. He claims it sounded like an aluminum baseball bat and he thought the partygoers were about to use the bat on him.
Gary's family and friends deny he was brandishing a bat, and while they admit they sometimes cracked jokes at Woodward's expense, they say they never threatened him.
Police say Woodward used a 9-mm Beretta to shoot the three men. Woodward testified when he approached Gary he thought he had a weapon in his hand. But after he killed him he learned it was a coffee mug.
Woodward says after shooting the three men, he went back home and waited for the police.
Was this a case of a man standing his ground, or was he exacting revenge on neighbors he thought were taunting him?
In a 15-page ruling, the judge denied his claim of immunity from prosecution, saying Woodward decided to "preemptively strike at his victims, at a moment when it was entirely unnecessary to do so, and when they were entirely unaware of his presence."
Woodward will stand trial on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of first-degree attempted murder.
Billy Woodward's admissions in court could come back to haunt him. The prosecution will now be able to use those open and at times bizarre statements against him during the murder trial. The only thing working in his favor right now: The prosecution took the death penalty off the table. If Woodward is convicted he could get life in prison.
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