Last week I accepted an invitation to see a screening of the new, still-in-progress documentary about a local double-murder case, entitled “Texas Justice: Brandon Woodruff.” I felt, walking in, as though I was pretty familiar with the case, having been a sheriff’s office employee during the time of his arrest and for years afterward; I met Woodruff shortly after his arrest, and I watched him age prematurely during his incarceration as he awaited trial.
In 2005, as a relatively new jail employee as-yet-unexposed to what my sheriff’s office coworkers considered the violent dregs of society, I was eager to see up-close the “brutal killer” so many of them had been talking about. Instead, on that October afternoon in 2005, I saw nothing but a scared young man who appeared to have no idea why he was being detained. Over time, I had countless interactions with the (now) convicted murderer Brandon Woodruff; despite that sense of familiarity, the “Texas Justice” documentary was eye-opening and gave me a lot to think about.
A family-photo-album slide show played to music at the beginning of the screening, held at the historic Texas Theater in Dallas; it felt a lot like a funeral service – but with the added benefit of popcorn and beverages. The photos took us along on the family’s adventures during Brandon’s youth: various vacations, birthday gatherings and holidays. Brandon flashed his mother’s smile in many; they appeared to be the typical American family. Unfortunately, all families have secrets – the only question is how dark and dangerous they will become.
The film began with news broadcasts that I remembered seeing back in 2005: Frightened Royse City residents praised local law enforcement for capturing the individual responsible for the brutal murders of their friends and neighbors, Dennis and Norma Woodruff.
What followed – according to the film – was a series of botched crime-scene investigations, illegal interrogations where Brandon’s constitutional rights were thrown out the window, a prejudiced jury that had decided Brandon’s guilt long before any evidence was laid out in court, and, ultimately, n young man wrongly convicted of killing his parents.
But the film doesn’t just tell you this; it shows you.
The documentary also includes interviews from character witnesses for both the accused and the victims. Family members, friends and co-workers of Dennis Woodruff shared memories of a great man with a wonderful wife and family.
The people on screen were all convinced that Brandon, then a young college student, was incapable of such horrific violence; their theory is that as a young secretly gay man living in a small, conservative community, Brandon was railroaded by gung-ho sheriff’s office investigators and jurors who didn’t care to comprehend his so-called “double life.” In 2005, that was a believable accusation. Depending on who’s in the hot seat, it still is today.
The documentary includes several interviews taken directly from the video cameras within the interrogation rooms of the Hunt County Sheriff’s Office; we heard courtroom transcripts from both sides’ attorneys and from jurors. A few jurors in the Woodruff trial even gave their accounts of what happened in the deliberation room; those interviews are also in the documentary.
Refusing to be interviewed for the documentary were several members of the Woodruff family who believed Brandon’s guilt, the investigators on the case, and the elected officials who prosecuted him. One of them even flees the scene mid-interview upon being told the footage is being used for a documentary about Brandon Woodruff. I won’t spoil it here; you’d have to see it to believe it. Sometimes, saying nothing at all speaks volumes.
My conclusion after seeing the film: If the information presented in this film is accurate, it makes me question the competence of that era of personnel employed by our Sheriff’s Office, which leads me (and will likely lead everyone who understands the whole story) to question whether the wrong man was convicted for the murders of Dennis and Norma Woodruff.
Defense attorney Katherine Ferguson of Greenville and the paralegal Linda Guyton as the documentary’s primary voices give powerful insight into the Woodruff case. Several Hunt County locations were used in the filming of the movie, including the jail, the courthouse, the Woodruff home, and random location shots of Greenville, Royse City, Rockwall and Heath.
Finally, the film ends with a picture of how the murder might have actually occurred, followed by a plea from director/writer Scott Poggensee to sign an online petition for the courts to grant an appeal for Brandon, who remains incarcerated within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Several other screenings of this film – which is still being fine-tuned and is not yet in its final version – will be offered in the near future, with a final cut premiere scheduled at South By Southwest 2019 in Austin. For more information regarding this film and possible viewing locations, visit FreeBrandon.org.
In closing, I would like to emphasize that this review represents my opinions of what was shown in a documentary film; I am not an attorney, a judge, or a member of law enforcement – though I am still on good terms with my former law enforcement coworkers.
I encourage anyone with interest in this case – average citizens as well as law enforcement – to go see this documentary if the opportunity presents itself and make up their own minds regarding this vicious crime. As Stephen Hawking said: “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge.”
Herald-Banner arts and entertainment columnist C. Derick Miller of Greenville is a dark fiction novelist, author, songwriter and poet currently on the Black Rose Writing publishing label. Visit his website (https://cderickmiller.com/) for info on his novels or to send him book review requests. His columns on literature and music by local writers and artists can be found at this direct link: http://bit.ly/2LpQhPo.