Woodard Pleads Guilty To Four Counts In Anamosa Killings
Handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit and a bulletproof vest, simply the sight of Woodard entering the courtroom on Friday morning was enough to bring some in attendance to tears.
Multiple officers and two K-9s kept watch during the hearing as Woodard pleaded guilty to one charge after another related to the killings of nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland.
The violent killings have shaken Iowa prison staff and inmates alike, and have prompted a wave of changes and new restrictions across the Iowa Department of Corrections.
“With regard to the killing of Robert McFarland, I ask you at this time, Thomas Allan Woodard, Jr., how do you plead to the offense of murder in the first degree: guilty or not guilty?” District Judge Fae Hoover asked him.
“Guilty,” Woodard said.
RN Lorena Schulte and CO Robert McFarland died during an attempted escape attempt from Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa. @afscme_c61 is demanding immediate staffing increases and workplace safety reforms to make sure this tragedy is never repeated. https://t.co/NOBtrScN0R pic.twitter.com/OaCzfTtSmy— AFSCME (@AFSCME) April 9, 2021
Thirty-nine-year-old Woodard admitted to hatching what investigators say was a failed escape plan with another inmate, Michael Dutcher.
Woodard admitted that they armed themselves with hammers, which investigators say were prison-issued, and made their way to a breakroom inside the prison infirmary, where they hit Schulte and McFarland multiple times in the head, killing them.
Woodard also admitted to encouraging Dutcher to kidnap a third prison staffer, Lorie Matthes, who came into the breakroom and saw Schulte and McFarland lying on the floor, mortally wounded.
Woodard testified that before the attack, he had directed Dutcher to "take care of" anyone who tried to stop them.
“That was the plan,” Woodard said.
“Would it be fair to say that you had encouraged Mr. Dutcher to take care of anybody or to eliminate anybody who might raise an alarm, yell or scream and direct attention toward what you were doing in the breakroom at the prison?” Hoover asked.
“Yes,” he responded.
Woodard also admitted to one count of attempted murder related to inmate McKinley Roby, who was also in the breakroom and who investigators say attempted to render aid to the victims. Roby suffered multiple skull fractures in the attack.
Woodard made it clear he has no remorse for attacking Roby and told the court he wished he had wounded him further.
“Roby is a pedophile and a snitch and I had every intention of hitting him with that hammer,” Woodard said.
“You had every intention?” Hoover asked.
“Every intention,” Woodard said. “I wish I hit him one more time.”
Former prison staffers and some inmates have hailed Roby as a hero, some growing emotional when speaking of his efforts to intervene in the brutal attack.
From me for @IowaPublicRadio:— Kate Payne (@hellokatepayne) August 4, 2021
Loved ones say restrictions in place at the state prison in Anamosa are taking away the things that keep inmates 'sane'.
"You got … the things that make this bearable. Now, what happens when this is gone? When you don't have anything to lose?” https://t.co/PdtoEb1FXK
Hoover made it clear to Woodard that by pleading guilty he will spend the rest of his life in prison, as the murder charges, which are Class A felonies, carry a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole. The other two charges, which are Class B felonies, carry a sentence of up to 25 years.
As part of the plea deal, the state has arranged for Woodard to be transferred to the Nebraska prison system after he is sentenced to serve out his term there.
Prosecutor and Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown says the guilty pleas are significant.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for almost 30 years. I’ve never had anybody plead guilty to a Class A felony,” Brown told reporters. “It’s rare but it does happen.”
Brown said the families of the victims are supportive of the plea deal and were consulted early on in the negotiating. Not having to go to trial is a relief for them, he said.
“They were supportive of all of this,” Brown said. “Trials are difficult and stressful for everybody, and particularly for them, because they have to come day after day, listen to all the facts and evidence related to their loved one that was killed. But they are supportive of what we did.”
The parties are still working out a sentencing date.
Dutcher meanwhile has opted for a bench trial. A date for that trial is expected to be announced soon.