A federal appeal court has blocked Brandon Dale Woodruff’s latest effort to overturn his conviction for the double-murder of his parents in Royse City in East Texas in 2005.
Woodruff, a gay man who has spent 13 years behind bars and is profiled in the book Railroaded and the documentary Texas Justice: Brandon Woodruff, has always maintained his innocence. He and his supporters claim homophobia prevented him from receiving a fair trial.
Prosecutors said that Woodruff, who had not publicly come out yet when he was arrested, likely lied about murdering his parents because he hid his sexual orientation from most people and led a secret life that included going to gay discos and appearing in a couple of gay porn films produced by a Florida filmmaker. They also pointed to his failing grades at Abilene Christian University, where he was a 19-year-old freshman, and to his high credit card debt as possible motivations for the murders.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled Sept. 20 that Woodruff, who is serving a life sentence with no parole in the Hughes Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections, would not be eligible to appeal a devastating ruling before his trial. He previously was also denied a writ by the U.S. Northern District Court of Texas.
A Hunt County judge acknowledged prior to the sensational 2009 murder trial that prosecutors violated Woodruff’s constitutional rights by secretly tape recording the defendant’s conversations with his lawyers. The district attorney’s office turned the prosecution over to the Texas Attorney General, but the judge declined to dismiss the capital murder indictment.
This most recent denial is yet another in a string of setbacks for Woodruff, whose appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District of Texas in Texarkana, on the grounds of insufficient evidence and trial court errors, was denied in 2010. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin later refused to hear an appeal of that lower court decision.
In a telephone interview from prison, Woodruff said that the news of the federal court’s denial of his appeal saddened, shocked and angered him. Woodruff believes the rejections of his appeals had more to do with a “concern he might have done it” rather than whether he received a fair trial.
Woodruff said that despite his initial disappointment, he feels renewed determination to prove his innocence and to seek justice for his parents whom he loved and with whom he enjoyed a good relationship.
“I would rather come home on actual innocence rather than a phone call violation,” Woodruff said. “I know in my heart I didn’t do it, and I want everyone else to know it.”
Woodruff said his lawyer advised him he could mount an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court at a cost of about $5,000, but there is only a 1 percent chance the high court would even look at his case. It would be hard for his few supportive family members and friends who have already spent so much on his case to raise the money, he noted.
“It was a big blow and setback, but I refuse to be conquered,” Woodruff said. “I’m not going to stop fighting and give up.”
The website FreeBrandon.org is attempting to raise public support and money to help Woodruff continue his fight for freedom. Woodruff said he is hopeful enough people will become convinced of his innocence to influence the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to reopen his case and examine it in greater detail.
Filmmaker Scott Poggensee, who is producing the documentary that recently had a screening-in-process at the Texas Theater in Dallas and who launched FreeBrandon.org, said the bad news “adds another layer to an already tragic and complicated story.” He hopes that as the documentary is finished and brought into wide release that it will inspire more people to get behind Woodruff.
“I’m surprised at how well Brandon handles it and keeps his head up no matter what,” Poggensee said. “It truly inspires me to work harder and to do more for the film to get his story out. As someone who has gotten to know Brandon well over the last few years, I am heart-broken for him. It seems every time he turns around there’s devastating news.”
A former employee of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Department who recently wrote a review of Poggensee’s documentary for the Greenville Herald Banner said he considered Woodruff at the time of his detention in jail to be a terrified, bewildered young man who seemed to have no idea why he was suspected of his parents’ murders. He noted the handsome Woodruff “aged prematurely” awaiting trial between 2005 and 2009 while jailed in lieu of $1 million bail.
Woodruff said he used to pray that whoever actually killed his parents would be stricken by conscience and come forward with the truth, but he now knows only continued investigation will lead to their exposure.
Woodruff said he has a “lot of time to think in prison,” and he spends much of it considering what he would do upon release. He said that if he ever gets to go home he wants to work with horses and other animals as he did growing up, to resume his college education and to help others who do not belong in prison gain freedom.
“I do not want to be a party boy anymore,” Woodruff said. “I want to make something out of life. This is not my home. This is not my place. This is just a temporary place until the truth comes out. It’s not a matter of if I come home, but when I come home.” █