Woods sentenced to life for murder

by By Cristin Parker news@mediactr.com

Cherokee County jurors sentenced a Jacksonville man to life in prison Monday after finding him guilty of first-degree murder earlier this month in the 369th District Court.

Terry Woods, 45, of Jacksonville was found guilty of the October 2015 murder of Frankston man Michael Hatton, 44, on Wednesday, July 15, by an all-white jury comprised of nine women and four men. Woods was also found guilty on charges of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon.

The sentencing portion of the trial began at 10:15 a.m. Monday, July 30, and was presided over by Cherokee County District Judge Michael Davis. Both the prosecution and defense attorneys presented evidence in the trial for a total of seven days, over the course of two weeks.

“I want to thank you, the members of the jury, for your time and attention to this very lengthy trial,” Judge Davis said.

The jury was dismissed into deliberations at 2:20 p.m. After an hour of deliberations, the jury returned to hand down the sentence of life in prison and a $10,000 fine for the murder charge; and 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for the gun charge.

After the judge dismissed the jurors and court was adjourned, Woods’ brother Jerry Woods of Cuney said, “I think they messed up the jury, in my opinion. It could have been more mixed than it was.”

Tracy Hatton, wife of the deceased, said, “I’m happy and sad at the same time – happy we’re through this and got justice, but I’m sad for (Woods and family), too.”

After investigating the incident in October 2015, Jacksonville police arrested Woods within 11 hours after Hatton was found with a gunshot wound to the head, in a residence located within the 1000 block of Bethune Street. Hatton later died from the injuries. Woods was indicted on murder charges by a Cherokee County grand jury in February 2016.

During the sentencing phase of Woods’ trial, Cherokee County First Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Richey called four members of the Jacksonville Police Department to testify as to Woods’ reputation as a “good and law-abiding citizen” at the time of the murder. None of the four said Woods, who has served a prior sentence after being found guilty in a 2004 case of burglary of a habitation, had a reputation as a “good and law-abiding citizen.”

ADA Richey also called Hatton’s wife Tracy to the stand.

“What has been the hardest part for you, and how has that changed you,” Richey asked Tracy Hatton.

She responded, “Knowing he’s not going to come back. That’s truly been the hardest part. It’s changed me more positively than negatively, I think, because I found a relationship with God through all this. But I still miss him (Hatton) every day.”

Defense Attorney Allen Ross called to the stand Woods’ sister Geneva Warren, of Cuney.

He asked her about Woods’ childhood and family life as a child. Warren said Woods had been a normal child through his formative years. Their father was shot and killed in 1984, leaving their mother to raise all five of the siblings – including Terry and his twin brother -- alone. Their father’s shooter was never found, as far as Warren knew, she said.

“I helped raise every one of them,” Warren, who is 11 years older than Woods, told the court. “He was a normal child.”

Ross asked what Warren had thought upon learning Woods had been arrested for Hatton’s death, and whether or not the Woods and Hatton families usually got along

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I would never expect that sort of behavior from Terry. Yes, we all got along, it’s still that way. I’m going to tell you, can’t none of us believe what happened.”

Ross also asked Warren -- who admitted she and Woods were together the day of the shooting, but she had not been at the scene that day -- how often she’d had contact with the defendant prior to that day and if she thought his actions in 2015 were accidental or intentional.

“We saw each other every day,” she said. “I don’t know, but I believe it was accidental.”

Ross also called longtime family friend Mary Sanders, of Jacksonville, to testify on behalf of Woods.

“I’ve known him since he was a baby,” Sanders said. “I was friends with his mom, who was a single mother, like me. HE was a clown as a kid, always making people laugh – he never been no problem, never had no problem.”

Ross also asked what her reaction was to the news he’d been arrested for the shooting.

“I couldn’t believe it, that’s not something he’d do,” she answered.

Both the prosecution and the defense rested before breaking for lunch at 11:35 a.m. on Monday. When court resumed at 1:30 p.m. after lunch, the attorneys presented their closing arguments.

“Let’s stop a moment and think about why, in our state, felons can’t possess firearms,” ADA Richey said to jury members. “Because they do bad things – they kill people. I really can’t think of a better example of that than this case. So, I’m requesting the maximum punishment (on the gun charge).

“On the murder charge, however, there is that special issue of sudden passion we talked about (through the guilt/innocence trial) – if you believe if he was acting under sudden passion, then give him the sentence of not less than five year, no more than 99 years. If you do not believe he was acting under sudden passion, then the sentence of not less than 15 years, no more than 99 years is the punishment he would receive.

“Do you believe he was acting under sudden passion that night? He said he allowed anger to get the best of him, he got mad. But then he said he went back into the house – he had time to cool down. He got the .45 (the caliber of gun used in the shooting), loaded it and shot Michael Hatton in the face. That’s not sudden passion so that tells you the range of punishment should be the 15 to 99 years or life. He took a life from the Earth, forever. That most egregious of offenses deserves the most egregious of punishments – I’m asking for life.”

Defense Attorney Ross also addressed the jury.

“What we’re doing today is the most important functions you’ll ever do in life,” he said. “Did he do it has never been the issue. In the 25 years I’ve been doing this, there have been people I truly did not like coming into court with. And I’ll have you know Terry Woods is not one of them.

“I may not agree with the jury sometimes, but I respect the integrity of the jury. Since the facts of the case are relatively simple, let’s point to a couple of things in the charge. If he’s sent to prison, he’s not eligible for parole until he’s served half of his sentence or 30 years, whichever is less. The special issue would not be in here if (the judge) didn’t think it at lease deserved some consideration. It’s our burden to prove this – we believed we proved it in the preponderance of evidence. The sudden passion issue deserves your strong consideration.

“Your decision has to be unanimous, so you must be true to your own convictions. Look at the facts of the case, look at everything that happened and make the decision for yourselves is this type of offence deserving of the high end of the low end of punishment. I leave it in your hands.”

ADA Richey readdressed the jury and showed a photo taken of the deceased at the scene of the shooting.

“This is how Michael Hatton was found,” he said. “This is how he left this world and I’m 100 percent sure it’s true, he was shot in the face because Terry Woods got mad over floor tile and crack. It’s senseless we are here for that. You decide what justice is and how it needs to be applied.”

Prosecution for the state included Richey, ADA Andrew Weber and Violence Against Women ADA Eric Felux. Defense attorneys included Ross and Sten Langsjoen.