A Netflix serial titled The Confession Tapes crossed my bow a few months ago. At the time, I was growing so weary of cases where our judicial system—whether through incompetence or malice afterthought—had put innocent people in a cage for life that I couldn’t take any more. I wasn’t denying the evidence; I was just trying to fight back a mounting depression, whose waters were already rising a hell of a lot faster around me that anything threatened by “climate change”.
I happened to Tweet something about my dismay—a found a whole new cause to grow depressed. In the time that it takes a neutrino to travel from the sun, I acquired all kinds of liberal friends… all of whom dropped me the next day, as soon as I shared a sentiment about our need for a national border. Gee, sorry: I didn’t realize that the desire for a just “justice system” was a partisan issue.
One Tweet, however, had a haunting quality. It contained little more than something like, “We are Episode 6.” Curious, I watched that episode: “The Labor Day Murders”. It involved a double homicide with the objective of lightening one victim’s wallet by about $450 (or $490, as I see in some sources). The crime was evidently an ambush along Glynn county’s rural Bladen Road in extreme southeastern Georgia, not far from Savannah. I believe there was a railroad track running beside the road at that point. Lavelle Lynn, owner of a garage and dealer in auto parts (and anything else that made money, legal or illegal) was shot between the eyes with a .22 caliber handgun. His friend and employee, Robert Arthur Van Allen, was also shot in the head—twice—and was found lying on his back.
I’m not making a bid here for drama. I insist upon the details because, while I have no expertise at all in forensics, I do flatter myself that I know something about human psychology. Getting shot between the eyes with a pistol, dead center… how does that happen? Old Westerns notwithstanding, you can’t hit a bull’s eye with a hipshot. The weapon must have been extended into the victim’s face at close range. Why would a burly mechanic and sometime drug dealer like Lavelle Lynn let a gun’s bore settle over his forehead without trying to swat it away—and maybe getting himself killed, but at least spoiling the perfectly centered entry? The shot must have come as a surprise: he must have thought that some kind of transaction or negotiation was ongoing. “Okay, you’ve got my wallet. What more do you want?” “Okay, so you’re selling weed on this side of the track. My customers already know me.” He must not have realized that the assailant had murder in mind before he had stopped their truck.
Lynn must have been shot first, which would have made Van Allen a less willing and stable target. I suppose that’s why he required two shots that weren’t as “clean”.
The man who did this was a cold-blooded killer. I think a turf war between drug dealers makes a lot of sense, because that’s where you find an abundance of… yes, animals. A fellow who needed quick cash and was aware that Lavelle carried a wad of it around might not have left him alive—but I figure he would have shot him in the torso first and then finished him through the head when the eyes were turned away. To pull the switch on a human life as two vibrant eyes stare straight at you is psychopathic. Shades of Che and his death squads.
So, naturally, after months of spinning their wheels, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation decided to zero in on Buddy Woodall, Lavelle Lynn’s all-American boy of a nephew: loving husband and father, working hard at two jobs (two legal jobs), no record of violent crime or antisocial behavior, and—by the way—very fond of Uncle Lavelle, who would cheerfully have loaned him cash if he were in dire straits.
The author of the Tweet that had alerted me to this case was Buddy’s wife Kristy.
I’m not Kathleen Zellner: I’ve already said that. I have no prosecutorial or forensic experience whatever. I have indeed had just a little experience, as a burglary victim, of how little focus local cops sometimes bring to their task and how shaky their awareness of human nature can be. Just because facing down bad guys from behind a badge appeals to you doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand how human beings tick. It may increase the probability, I’m afraid, that you do not possess such understanding.
I’m going to continue these posts for at least two more occasions, unless Kristy Woodall asks me to desist. My hope is that someone having the competencies so severely lacking in my own resume may take an interest in the case, whose “guilty” verdict was confirmed by the Georgia Supreme Court in late January of 2014. Naturally, of special interest in the Netflix series were the dubious conditions under which Buddy’s “confession” was elicited—and I’ll get to that, for the online document publicly confirming the verdict is itself at odds with the televised account of the interrogation on at least one major issue.
For now, however, I’ll wrap up by mentioning what was the most damning item of evidence to me: the shell casings found on the property of Buddy’s parents. These were said to have made a perfect match with casings recovered from the crime scene. The murder weapon itself was never retrieved, so any further ballistics analysis was impossible.
When you stop and think about it, that in itself is puzzling: I mean, that you would commit a double homicide to harvest about $500 knowing that you’d have to discard the weapon—and knowing that the semi-automatic pistol itself (sold before the crime) might have brought a couple of hundred in a pawn shop.
But as for the shell casings: I was unaware before doing further research that the imprint of the firing pin could become a unique identifier. There seems to be some slight question even today about its being so. Almost twenty years ago, was the state of forensic science at the point where the identification could be considered foolproof? If those tests were run again in 2019, what results would they yield?
The implied narrative behind the shells recovered in the back yard of Woodall Senior was obviously that Buddy would take target practice there. Can we confirm that? Did neighbors routinely hear gunshots from that direction? (I can tell you as a resident of rural Georgia myself: you would hear, even if you lived miles away.)
Did Buddy in fact have a .22 semi-automatic registered to him at the time? If so, and if it was never recovered… what was the reason given by him for its disappearance? If it was stolen before September 3, 2000, can anyone confirm the theft from remarks or documentation preceding the murders?
These were details, naturally, that didn’t make it into the show, whose spotlight shone on the confession; but I have to wonder if they were details that local detectives ever attempted to supply.
My impression of certain cases is that their “architects” eagerly fill in pieces that contribute to the desired effect as they appear—and either ignore or don’t seek out other pieces that might detract from the emerging whole. I have further reason to believe that such “artistry” may have played a role in Woodall’s conviction. I’ll speak further of that later.