Criminal Investigation: Too Much Blueprint and Too Few Bricks? (Part II)

I would like to have more information about the forensic technique of identifying guns through imprints left upon spent shells (primarily by the firing pin).  I would like to know if that science had achieved a high degree of reliability in the early twenty-first century.  Of course, in the case of Buddy Woodall, we’re not talking about an experiment at MIT.  Glynn County, Georgia, is among the poorest in the state.  Even if the county lab possessed the latest technology in 2000, did it have technicians schooled in the latest skills?

The issue of shell casings being found on the property of Buddy’s parents that matched those recovered at the scene of a double homicide remains crucial to me.  The Netflix serial Confession Tapes brushed hurriedly past it in order to focus upon the defendant’s very dubious admission of guilt—and I will anticipate myself by noting here that the weapon Woodall confessed to firing could not possibly have produced the casings found.  This is just one in a string of “admissions” that must be false, and which the prosecution never tried to present as other than false while still insisting that Woodall had truly confessed. Yet whatever Netflix or the State of Georgia wished to foreground about the evidence, the shell casings remain the point most disturbing to me.

I am much predisposed in Buddy’s favor, however, by the State’s Confirmation of Conviction (# S13A1564) published online at https://caselaw.findlaw.com/ga-supreme-court/1655783.html.  Ironic, isn’t it, that a document tending to exonerate Buddy Woodall would be the work product of several judges writing to reaffirm that he had been correctly condemned! Here’s how it reads in regard to the murder weapon:

The police collected physical evidence which revealed Mr. Van Allen was shot three times [I wrote last time that he had been shot twice: I presume that I was wrong] with a .25 Lorcin pistol. The evidence also showed that a pearl-handled .25 Lorcin pistol and two other guns had been stolen from appellant’s father’s safe in May 2000. An acquaintance of appellant testified that sometime before the murders, he saw appellant with a .25 pearl-handled pistol and a 9mm Ruger. The medical examiner testified two of the three gunshots were fatal as to Mr. Van Allen—one to his head and another that went through his chest piercing his lungs and heart. The gunshot to Mr. Van Allen’s head was made from a distance of 16 to 18 inches because there was gun powder residue at the site of the entrance wound. Mr. Lynn died due to a gunshot to back of the head. Authorities were unable to recover the bullet or shell casing which would have revealed the caliber of the weapon used to inflict Mr. Lynn’s injury. The lead investigator on the case testified he had a discussion with the medical examiner wherein the medical examiner opined that Mr. Lynn was shot with a .38 caliber weapon; however, the medical examiner testified at trial that he could not determine what caliber weapon was used against Mr. Lynn. Still, police generally believed appellant and his co-defendant were both shooters, although appellant told police his co-defendant shot both victims.

Isn’t this interesting?  The notion that two guns and two shooters were involved is strongly suggested, yet an obligingly hesitant coroner was unwilling to exclude the .25 from Lynn’s murder by the time of trial. Buddy Woodall received life sentences for the commission of both murders, as if he were the sole culprit on the scene.

And just to thicken the plot yet further, it turns out the weapon used in Van Allen’s murder, at least, had indeed been stolen from the gun safe of Buddy’s father several months earlier!  Now, is the implication that Woodall was nicking his own dad’s possessions as well as gunning down other close relations?  This is an emerging portrait of a young psychotic—an incurable “bad boy”—which nothing in the defendant’s life appears to justify. Why would Buddy not simply have borrowed the gun; or if he knew he were going to use it in a robbery/murder three months later (to earn a few hundred bucks), why wouldn’t he snitch a weapon not traceable to his kinfolk? For that matter, if he needed a few c-notes that badly at that time, why not simply pawn the three guns that he had just stolen?

As for the acquaintance who testified to having seen Buddy with a pearl-handled pistol “sometime before the murders”, the official statement above is helpful neither in specifying the time nor the acquaintance. Woodall’s brother-in-law, David Wimberly, had volunteered a few items of testimony used by the prosecution; was this one of those? “Davy” might have borne an understandable grudge against Buddy for being implicated in the murders (accused of both, actually) by the “confession”. Even so, simply admitting to having seen a pearl-handled pistol—they’re not rare—hardly even reaches the threshold of circumstantial relevance.

The documentary records the claim of one witness that Woodall had spoken to him about ambushing a hypothetical victim in an out-of-the-way place. Such is the fabric of which the state’s case is woven: young men casually discussing over a beer how to murder someone, maybe after watching an episode of Forensic Files (my son’s favorite show). Let us grant, as well, that harvesting a statement of this sort from a lad on probation for a drug or assault conviction would be as easy as getting a lab rat to eat sugar. It happens all the time. A fellow being leaned on gently under such conditions would remember whatever little tidbit the detective needed. Anything to help law enforcement!

Being the person originally—and without compulsion—identified by Buddy as having borrowed the family’s blue car on the fateful day (more of that later), Wimberly does raise certain questions.  I know nothing whatever about David Wimberly, however, except what is alleged in legal documents.  These are often so far from dispelling the cloud of witness that they churn out more fog at critical points.  For instance, the judges who compiled the Confirmation of Conviction, in one of their more transparent statements, actually position the fatal wound to Lavelle Lynn 180 degrees from its true point of entry: the Netflix documentary made graphically clear (and I do mean graphically) that the bullet struck Lynn between the eyes, not in the back of the head. A similar document online identifies Lavelle Lynn as the uncle of Woodall’s wife. I find such confusion very odd, as someone who doesn’t normally read in the genre.  Is such slipshod assembly of the basic facts where a man’s life hangs in the balance really typically of how our system works?

The fate of the $490 in victim Lavelle Lynn’s wallet (stated on camera as $480 by Lynn’s daughter) poses another series of questions that I, as a juror, would have wanted answered—and perhaps the prosecution offered a more detailed account than the documentary’s producers had time to relate.  Still… what happened to the cash?  The published text of the Confirmation simply reads as follows:

The record also showed that when Mr. Lynn’s body was discovered, his wallet was missing from his person;3but the wallet was recovered several months later, emptied of money and laying [sic] by the roadside in another county.

I have retained the text’s “3” to indicate the probable intent of communicating more information—but the hyperlink is inactive.  So I’m left with my unanswered questions.  Since Woodall is supposed to have needed the money desperately, was there any record of overdue bills being paid off suddenly right after September 3?  Was a substantial cash deposit made in Buddy’s bank account at about this time—or did he usually pay his monthly bills in cash?  Finding those answers now would likely be impossible, at least in a form that didn’t involve pure hearsay.  Did detectives ask the questions when hard evidence could have settled the issues?  Pardon my skepticism… but I somehow doubt it.

The wallet’s point of discovery could have been another highly significant detail.  Bladen Road appears to me to run very near the border of Glynn and Brantley Counties, the latter of which was Woodall’s home turf; so was the cryptic “roadside in another county” where Lynn’s wallet eventually turned up a bit of Brantley real estate around the bend from Buddy’s house… or are we approaching Florida or Alabama?

Once again, the Confirmation couldn’t have been less helpful if it were a rural signpost twisted about by rowdy high school kids on a Friday night.  Buddy Woodall was working two jobs to support a wife and three children; if the wallet showed up on the road to Athens or Atlanta, its depositing would have required a trip that the defendant couldn’t have budgeted into his busy schedule—not without producing a strange absence noticeable to all around him.

It turns out, however (as I eventually discovered from another document), that the wallet was found along Highway 110—which is actually very close to Bladen Road, just west enough to cross the Brantley County line. (Why Their Honors couldn’t have written “roadside in Brantley County” instead of “roadside in another county” is anyone’s guess.) But now I have several questions of a different sort. Why would Woodall have taken the wallet, in the first place?  If enrichment by any and all means were the motive of these two robbery/homicides, then why not take second victim Robert Van Allen’s watch and other effects? Why not? Because Woodall was no fool, and he would know that such a haul couldn’t have been fenced locally without leaving a trail.  But if Woodall was no fool, then I must ask, once again: why take the wallet? And being smart enough to realize that he didn’t want a bunch of perilously identifiable material knocking around in his pocket, why toss the wallet out the window in his home county just at a spot where it could easily be found? I guarantee you that you or I could “lose” such an article where it wouldn’t be recovered for decades.

I wonder if the wallet was taken to transmit loud and clear the message, “This was a robbery,” because… because the murder wasn’t really a robbery at all.  I return to my suspicions about a drug-related hit, considering the cold-blooded shot between the eyes (which the Confirmation effectively scuffed up).  By 2000, the lush, remote backwoods of the Gulf States were attracting marijuana-growers even from Mexican cartels.  (That’s right: the cartels would smuggle their highly armed “farmers” into secure pockets such as national forests—there’s a huge stretch of such forest along I 20 through Mississippi—and issue them orders to kill intruders on sight.)  Lavelle Lynn had mixed himself up in some extra-legal activity that had grown a lot more risky than running a whiskey still.  I think he may have paid the ultimate price for that error.

But those who built and prosecuted the case against Buddy Woodall—I’m sure without malice or conscious distortion—assembled and stated “facts” in such a way that all roads led to Buddy’s doorstep.  When a path stubbornly wandered elsewhere, they dumped brush over it, turned their backs, and walked away.

And yet, I don’t think a pandillero from Michoacan would have stolen guns from the senior Mr. Woodall’s safe and then, three months later, have murdered with one of them. That all points to somebody local.

Author: nilnoviblog

I hold a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature (Latin/Greek) but have not navigated academe very successfully for the past thirty years. This is owed partly to my non-PC place of origin (Texas), but probably more to my conviction--along with the ancients--that human nature is immutable, and my further conviction--along with Stoics and true Christians-- that we have a natural calling to surmount our nature. Or maybe I just don't play office politics well. I'm much looking forward to impending retirement, when I can tend to my orchards and perhaps market the secrets of Dead Ball hitting that I've excavated. No, there's nothing new (nil novi) under the sun... but what a huge amount has been forgotten, in baseball and elsewhere!

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