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Inmate To Serve Two Consecutive Life Sentences For Anamosa Prison Killings

Inmate Thomas Woodard will spend the rest of his life in prison for the brutal killings of two prison staffers at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Family members of nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland say the loss of their loved ones has been profound and life-altering.
Kate Payne
Inmate Thomas Woodard will spend the rest of his life in prison for the brutal killings of two prison staffers at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. Family members of nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland say the loss of their loved ones has been profound and life-altering.

A judge ruled Thursday that inmate Thomas Woodard will spend the rest of his life in prison for the brutal killings of nurse Lorena Schulte and correctional officer Robert McFarland, who were killed on the job at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in March. In an emotional sentencing hearing at the Jones County Courthouse, Judge Fae Hoover assured the slain workers’ loved ones that the defendant will never go free again.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, his hands cuffed to a heavy chain around his waist, Thomas Woodard listened in silence as bereft victims detailed how their lives have been forever changed by the attack he carried out on March 23.

Eleven loved ones gave heart-wrenching statements at the hearing Thursday, describing the profound and life-altering loss they had experienced. Sara McFarland, the widow of the correctional officer affectionately known to many as “Bobby Mac," spoke directly to the defendant.

“Do you know what a nightmare it is to hear someone tell you that the person that you love so much was murdered? Thanks to you, I do,” McFarland said. “It’s a horrible nightmare I never, ever wake up from no matter how hard I try.”

Killings 'a nightmare' that family members never wake up from

Family members, loved ones and Department of Corrections employees, many wearing “Stronger Together” T-shirts, packed the third floor courtroom, where the windows looked out onto the sprawling limestone fortress where the brutal killings took place.

Investigators say that Woodard and another inmate, Michael Dutcher, used prison-issued hammers to beat McFarland and Schulte to death during a failed escape attempt from the breakroom inside the prison infirmary.

Another prison staffer, Lorie Matthes, was kidnapped and suffered broken ribs and other injuries during the attack. A third inmate, McKinley Roby, tried to render aid to the victims and was also beaten, suffering severe head trauma.

A DOC staffer read Matthes’ victim impact statement on her behalf, saying that what she saw that day will be “forever embedded in my head."

“My body may have healed from the injuries I sustained that day, but my mind is forever altered. I struggle on a daily basis with the mental wounds that are still open and fresh,” Matthes’ statement reads.

“The complete lack of regard for others’ lives was so apparent to me that day in that break room. I do not feel you have one ounce of remorse for all the lives you have forever changed by your inhumane acts of violence,” the statement continues.

Crimes will 'break you and hunt you down,' injured inmate warns

Woodard pleaded guilty to all four counts stemming from the attack: two counts of first degree murder, one count of second degree kidnapping and one count of attempted murder.

Dutcher, his co-defendant, has pleaded not guilty to the same counts and is slated to go to trial in Jones County on Sept. 21.

A victim statement from Roby, the injured inmate, was also read on his behalf by a DOC staffer, describing how he is unable to be around other people without fear of another attack.

“The lives you and your codefendant took, the beating of me and the kidnapping of Lorie that day will be with you and your codefendant until the day you two die. That's going to break you and hunt you down,” Roby’s statement reads.

“To the families of McFarland and Lorena, know that you're in my thoughts and prayers,” Roby's statement continues.

Other inmates and former DOC employees have grown emotional when talking about Roby’s efforts to intervene, hailing him as a hero.

Murders upended lives, devastated generations of family members

It was clear from the testimony at court Thursday that the murders have devastated generations of family members.

Loved ones of McFarland and Schulte recounted their abject despair and an inability to process the gruesome manner of their deaths. Some told the court they have been prescribed new medications, gotten into fights or lost a job as a result of the attack.

Schulte’s sister Gretchen Dixon told the court that there are “no words” to fully express how the loss has affected her family. Dixon says Schulte was a beloved aunt who doted on Dixon’s three young daughters and was “one of their favorite” people in the world; her five month old son only got to meet his aunt three times before she was killed.

“There is now a bottomless void that surrounds all who knew her,” Dixon said, her voice thick with emotion. “I was supposed to grow old with her.”

Dixon says her children have regressed after losing their aunt, exhibiting signs of anxiety or becoming overly attached to their mom. She says her seven year old daughter “fantasizes about turning back time."

“They will live the rest of their lives wondering what could have been and working hard to overcome the loss they should have never had to experience,” Dixon said of her children.

Families haunted by the lives that should have been

McFarland’s family has also been devastated by his loss, haunted by all the things he will miss: seeing his children get married and holding his first grandchild.

“It's always been my dream to graduate and have my dad there, so he could be super proud of me, because I had made it,” reads a statement from Casen McFarland, Robert’s youngest son. The statement was read at court on his behalf by Yanira Scarlett.

McFarland’s sister Kayleen LaPointe told the court that her life has been upended by the loss of her brother, but that she takes solace in the knowledge that he and Schulte’s pain didn’t last as long as their survivors’.

“My only wish for you Thomas Woodard is that you remember the hurt you have caused so many people when you killed my brother,” LaPointe said. “I am thankful though that my brother Bobby and Lorena’s no pain and suffering didn't have to last nearly as long as the pain and suffering that our families will have to go through the rest of our lives.”

When offered a chance to address the court, Woodard declined.

Hoover sentenced him to two terms of life in prison without the possibility of parole, and two terms of 25 years for the attempted murder and kidnapping, all to be served consecutively. Woodard has also been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $150,000 each to the estates of McFarland and Schulte, $306 to Matthes for medical care, and a yet to be determined amount to Roby for his medical treatment.

Woodard is slated to serve his time in the state of Nebraska, according to a deal agreed to by prosecutors, the defense and the Iowa DOC.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter