Paso Robles woman's life changes in an instant when she learns husband is stabbed to death

Widow of Paso Robles resident randomly stabbed to death in a laundromat humanizes the victim as the prosecution rests its case

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comNovember 1, 2012 

John Woody, 29, of San Jose has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in the murder of Martin McWilliams, 46, of Paso Robles.


When an investigator came to Michelle McWilliams’ door with a photo of her husband last year, her life changed instantly.

Not far away from her home, a man had been stabbed to death at the Paso Robles Laundromat. The investigator asked whether that man was McWilliams’ husband, 46-year-old Martin McWilliams.

During the trial of John F. Woody Jr., the widow testified only briefly. But her presence in court Thursday humanized the victim — whom jurors have only seen in a video of his murder and in autopsy photos — and revealed that he was a husband and a father.

Woody, now 30, of San Jose, faces first-degree murder charges. According to court testimony, he was driving through Paso Robles on March 6, 2011. Around 7 p.m., the shoeless Woody entered the laundromat on Spring Street; said, “I got something for you”; and repeatedly stabbed McWilliams, who was doing his family’s laundry.

McWilliams fought off the attack and ran outside, but he collapsed and died on Spring Street.
With the identity of McWilliams’ stabber not in doubt, jurors will have to decide whether Woody is guilty of first- or second-degree murder. After the jury delivers its verdict, Superior Court Judge Michael Duffy will decide whether Woody was sane at the time.

Woody has a history of mental illness, his attorney, Ken Cirisan, has said. Burr Hartman, the pathologist who performed McWilliams’ autopsy, said the 30 stab wounds inflicted on the victim represented an “overkill” type of stabbing, typical of someone who committed a crime of passion, had been severely agitated or suffered from mental illness.

In his interview with a police detective, Woody said he hadn’t taken medication for two weeks prior to the murder.

Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan has told jurors that Woody knew what he was doing that night. During trial testimony Thursday, he presented evidence showing that Woody made several calls to his bank the day of the murder and the next day, checking his balance. He also called his mother, who had previously transferred money into his account.

Michelle McWilliams’ testimony consisted mostly of yes or no answers about her contact with Casey Neall, an investigator with the District Attorney’s Office. The day of the murder, Neall used a cellphone to take a photo of Martin McWilliams from the laundromat’s security video, then — using identification found at the scene — went to McWilliams’ apartment to get additional identification. Michelle McWilliams confirmed the man was her spouse.

In court, she said she and McWilliams had a son, who was 10 at the time. McWilliams also had a daughter, who was then 22.

Woody has mostly sat quietly in court. The 6-foot-6 defendant had once received a full scholarship to play basketball at Brandeis University in Massachusetts and was named senior of the year for his division in high school. But Cirisan said he began to slide mentally shortly after enrolling at Brandeis.

The prosecution officially rested its case Thursday, although it can call rebuttal witnesses after the defense presents its case. Cirisan is expected to call psychiatric experts, who will likely be challenged by the prosecution’s own mental health experts.

Jurors could begin deliberating by the end of next week.

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