Halkides: Brandon Woodruff And The Murder Of His Parents

Ed. Note: Chris Halkides has been kind enough to try to make us lawyers smarter by dumbing down science enough that we have a small chance of understanding how it’s being used to wrongfully convict and, in some cases, execute defendants. Chris graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a Ph.D. in biochemistry, and teaches biochemistry, organic chemistry, and forensic chemistry at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.

In 2009, Brandon Woodruff was convicted of murdering his parents Norma and Dennis in their new home in Royse City, Texas in 2005.  His parents were both shot and stabbed multiple times in what might have been a personal cause homicide. The prosecution hypothesized that Brandon killed them over tensions arising from his being gay having poor grades in college, and possibly from his overspending and appearing in a couple of adult films. There was no evidence for an argument; there is evidence that the police and the jury were anti-gay. It was repeatedly stated at his trial,  “If he could lie about being gay, he could lie about killing his parents.”

His indictment was based upon scant evidence; there was no blood or gunshot residue on his clothing or the truck he drove. His being held in pretrial detention, however, proved significant.  It is undisputed that the prosecution had recordings of fifty-four conversations between him and his legal team. A district court judge appointed a special prosecutor, but did not dismiss the case.

The appeals court rejected the defense’s motion to dismiss. They wrote, “Our review failed to discover any privileged information of even the most marginal value to the State,” even though false statements of an alternative suspect were discussed. Their decision stated, “In fact, on Exhibit 1F, track 5, the defense attorney informs Brandon that the district attorney‘s office has recorded attorney-client telephone calls in another case.”

The Appeals Court also maintained, “This case does not demonstrate a pattern of recurring violations.” In another footnote the appeals court indicated that, “At a later hearing, the defense presented evidence before Webb Biard, Senior Judge of the 6th Judicial District Court, that the tapes had been played to at least two fact witnesses.”

A replica of a Colt revolver was reported to be missing from the house of the parents of Brandon’s former girlfriend, but the exact date of its disappearance is uncertain. Over two years later, a dagger was found in a previously searched outbuilding at the old home of his parent.  The prosecution asserted that Dennis Woodruff’s blood was found on the guard of the dagger.

Both pieces of evidence are problematic. The missing gun was a 0.45 caliber and was never recovered. The caliber of the bullets at the crime scene was either 0.44 or 0.45.  Whether the gun was operational is open to question. It is unclear what tests were performed on the knife, which raises the question of whether only a presumptive test for blood was used or a confirmatory test followed. There are abrasions next to a stab wound which suggest that the blade of the murder weapon was about 6 inches long, half of the length of the dagger.  One is also prompted to ask, if Brandon had disposed of the gun so thoroughly that it was never found, why hide the dagger in an obvious location?

The evidence that was not collected would almost fill a book. There is nothing to suggest that the police took the temperatures of Norma or Dennis’s bodies, yet this can be the best way to determine the time of death. The Appeals Court wrote:

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. 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.

The petition of John D. Nation, Brandon’s lawyer, went a little further, stating “Officers did not take fingerprints inside the house…” The killer must have locked the door on the way out; therefore, a reasonable juror might want to know whose fingerprints were there.  If the hair had roots, standard autosomal DNA testing could have been performed. Even if there were no roots, mitochondrial DNA testing might have ruled Brandon out.

The prosecution’s timeline was almost absurdly tight. The failure, therefore, to secure some of Brandon’s phone records (which were erased after six to nine months) is remarkable. What is especially odd is that fourteen of the most critical hours are missing from the records that do exist. These data might have been highly probative, given that Brandon was frequently on the phone and that it takes about 25 minutes to drive to the murder scene from where he tended to the family’s animals in Heath, Texas on the night of the murder.

The Innocence Project of Texas took up Brandon’s case in 2021.

For further reading

Railroaded by Phillip Crawford Jr. (2018). Brandon Dale Woodruff v. State of Texas

Brandon D. Woodruff vs Lorie Davis, Director, TDCJ-CID (John D. Nation, counsel of record)

6 thoughts on “Halkides: Brandon Woodruff And The Murder Of His Parents

  1. Phillip Crawford Jr.

    Eight of the twelve jurors answered yes to the voir dire question of “do you feel or believe that being homosexual or gay is morally wrong,” and accordingly, the state’s homophobic narrative surely had a prejudical impact given the weak evidence against Brandon Woodruff. Indeed, some of the state’s witnesses admitted that their opinion about Brandon Woodruff negatively changed after learning that he was gay. In his 2001 article “Guilty and Gay” for the American University Law Review Michael Shortnacy writes that the “court system itself can be a hostile environment for homosexual defendants,” and “prosecutors can shape legal outcomes with their biased behavior.” The prosecution against Brandon Woodruff for his parents’ murders is such a case.

    1. Chris Halkides

      The investigating officer’s religious beliefs may have colored his judgement. Brandon was arrested about a week after the crime on scanty and incorrect evidence, which is suggestive of tunnel vision.

  2. Scott Poggensee

    The problem at trial was not that Brandon was gay, in itself. The problem was that he was hiding it from certain members of his friends/family. Even though this is a very normal part of the coming out process, the prosecution demonized it, saying “Well, if he can lie about being gay, then he can lie about killing his parents.” Even though this is a ridiculous statement, it resonated with the biased jury. None of the jurors I talked to said they had a problem with Brandon being gay, but they all said that the prosecution made him out to be a big liar and they believed it. This is how you get someone convicted in the United States of America with no evidence.

    1. Phillip Crawford Jr.

      Some jurors may have said they had no problem with Brandon being gay in and of itself, and yet 8 of the 12 said in voir dire they believe homosexuality is morally inferior. Something ain’t squaring. The fact that some jurors said they really only were offended by Brandon not being completely out seems like cover for what really may be their inherent prejudice which they have a more difficult time admitting face-to-face with someone directly confronting their verdict. But yeah, I agree the prosecution making Brandon out to be duplicitous for not being completely out to the world as a 19-y-o boy in Texas in 2005 only exacerbated the seemingly anti-gay bias which ran through the case from investigation through trial, and catered to the expressly admitted anti-gay bias of at least eight jurors.

  3. Chris Halkides

    There is nothing to suggest that fingernails were swabbed for DNA; foreign DNA underneath one’s fingernails is probative. It is possible that Dennis’s spit cup was placed in his hand post mortem, and this item should have been checked for latent fingermarks. One wonders what the police were thinking.

    1. cthulhu

      They were thinking what cops around the country have been known to think in such a situation – “I’ve invested significant time and effort in this particular theory of the crime, and I’ll look bad to my bosses and the DA’s office if I’m wrong; plus, this guy is guaranteed to be guilty of SOMETHING, so I’m doing the world a favor, right?”

      Someone I know (not a friend, but someone I knew and spent time with for 8-10 years and was neutral about from a like/dislike standpoint) had the above happen to him, and last time I checked is still rotting in prison for over 30 years for a murder he almost certainly didn’t commit.

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