Voices led man to kill in Paso Robles, defense expert says

In trial focusing on suspect’s mental state, psychiatrist and lawyers recount John F. Woody Jr.’s bizarre behavior

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comNovember 5, 2012 

A man who allegedly stabbed a laundry customer to death in Paso Robles had left his home in San Jose that day because he was traumatized by a psychotic incident involving a little girl, a psychiatrist testified Monday.

John F. Woody Jr., 30, is on trial for first-degree murder. The District Attorney’s Office said he walked into the Paso Robles Laundromat on March 6, 2011, and stabbed Martin McWilliams, 46, of Paso Robles, 30 times.

Woody has entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

During Monday’s testimony, defense attorney Ken Cirisan and Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan both detailed some of Woody’s bizarre actions prior to the killing. But while Cirisan will argue that Woody’s actions were guided by mental illness, Kerrigan suggested Woody merely has a personality disorder that does not control his actions.

Cirisan’s main witness Monday was Thomas Middleton, a psychiatrist who evaluated Woody in July.
Middleton said Woody’s mental health began to spiral out of control after high school. After being hospitalized in 2003, he was diagnosed as having schizoaffective disorder, which entails hallucinations and delusions.

More hospitalizations followed, and his mother was put legally in charge of his finances and medication.

“He is not in control of his behavior at various levels,” Middleton said.

Middleton discussed several bizarre incidents that he said support the mental illness diagnosis. Once, while on a plane in Texas, Woody thought there was someone on the wing of the plane, so he popped the emergency chute and jumped off the aircraft while it was on the runway. Another time, he assaulted a convenience store clerk, shouting “Where is she?”

Shortly before the suspected murder, Middleton said, Woody’s illness was triggered while in a church in his hometown.

Believing he was the father of a 7-year-old girl, whose voice he’d heard in his head, Woody approached a girl in the church, Middleton said. Traumatized when he learned the girl wasn’t his daughter, Woody left San Jose for Mexico, where he planned to find work as a landscaper.

“He was fleeing what he found to be an intolerable situation in San Jose,” Middleton said.

Until the trial began, how Woody came to be in Paso Robles was a mystery to the public.

According to the defense, while driving to Mexico, Woody ran out of gas in Paso Robles, where he — off medication for two weeks — began hearing voices again. This time, the voices were critical men. One of them, Woody assumed, was coming from the Laundromat. Woody, shoeless, walked in and killed what he thought was the source of the voice.

“Auditory hallucinations are like hearing Darth Vader in your head,” Middleton said.

Even with medication, Middleton said, Woody still has severe symptoms, including delusions, unorganized thoughts and manic episodes.

One rebuttal witness from the prosecution — another psychiatric expert — is expected to testify that Woody has antisocial personality disorder and was faking or exaggerating some of his illness.

During his cross-examination of Middleton, Kerrigan pointed out some of Woody’s past actions that are typical of antisocial personality disorder. When he was younger, Kerrigan said, Woody set fire to a cat and a rat after pouring gasoline on them, and he put firecrackers in the rectums of mice. He also once tried to set his bedroom on fire.

Woody also had multiple convictions for assault, vandalism and resisting arrest.

His actions before and after the killing — making sure no one else was in the laundry, running away from the scene and ditching the knife and his bloody clothing — suggest that Woody exhibited purposeful behavior, Kerrigan told the jury.

Middleton said Woody’s actions also suggest mental illness. 

Woody got rid of the clothes, he said, because of the smell of blood, which Woody believed was “sucking the air out of his lungs.”

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