As he was driving his wife and two children home from Scolari’s grocery store on March 6, 2011, Jesus Ruiz saw a man stumbling in the middle of Spring Street in Paso Robles.
He initially thought the man was drunk, but noticed he was clutching his chest area, which was covered in blood.
“He was shouting out, ‘Help me! Help me!’” Ruiz testified in court Monday. “He said he was dying.”
As Ruiz exited his car and approached the man, 46-year-old Martin McWilliams said an African-American man had stabbed him, then pointed in the direction that John F. Woody had fled.
During Woody’s murder trial Monday, his attorney, Ken Cirisan, conceded that his client had stabbed McWilliams. But Woody – a former college basketball recruit who was passing through Paso Robles that day -- has had a history of mental illness, he said, and was driven to kill by voices in his head.
“Mr. Woody was caught in the throes of hallucinations, voices,” Cirisan said.
While Cirisan said Woody has been in and out of mental institutions, the District Attorney’s Office said Woody knew exactly what he was doing on that day – and even tried to cover up his crime.
“Evidence will show he threw the knife away,” Deputy District Attorney Matt Kerrigan told the jury. “The evidence will show he changed his clothes.”
Woody’s first-degree murder trial will feature two phases – one to determine if he committed the crime and another to determine whether he was sane at the time. Much of the stabbing, along with Woody’s movements before and afterward, was captured by several surveillance cameras.
According to testimony and evidence presented in Monday’s proceedings, Woody, 29, of Santa Clara County, had planned to drive to Mexico seeking landscaping work, but stopped in Paso Robles because he was out of gas.
After attempting to buy a cigar at a local liquor store and placing several calls to a credit union and a bank, he wound up at the Paso Robles Laundromat at Spring and 28th streets. Inside, a lone customer, McWilliams, was watching TV while standing before a line of washing machines.
When he saw Woody, he nodded and said something that wasn’t caught by cameras. Then Woody grabbed a knife from his jacket and began stabbing McWilliams repeatedly.
The two struggled, and McWilliams eventually ran out to the street. As he tried to flag down motorists, Woody drove off in a truck.
Ruiz arrived and initially tried to locate the culprit, then returned to McWilliams, who had by then collapsed as a result of 30 stab wounds.
As Ruiz and another civilian attempted CPR, a Paso Robles police officer took photos – one showing a blood-soaked McWilliams pale and unconscious.
“He never woke up,” Ruiz testified.
The morning after McWilliams bled to death, Woody called 911, saying he wanted to report an incident and adding, “I would like to go down to the police station.”
Not long after attempting to withdraw $150 from the Pacific Western Bank in Atascadero – where he doesn’t even have an account – Woody was apprehended by police.
He allegedly told police “I need to go to jail” and “I’m doing what I have to do to get off the streets” -- suggesting, Kerrigan said, that he had a plan that day.
The 6-foot-6-inches defendant once had a full-ride scholarship to play basketball at Brandeis University, Cirisan said. But soon after going to Boston for college, he started a downward slide.
Diagnosed with bipolar and schizo-effective disorders, Woody started to self-medicate with methamphetamine, cocaine and alcohol. Several times in the past, Cirisan said, he’d been declared “5150” – meaning he was involuntarily confined to psychiatric institutions -- in Santa Clara County.
“Mr. Woody has chronic voices inside his head,” Cirisan said.
The night of the murder, Woody was lying in his truck, listening to one of those voices when he decided to find the source of the nagging criticisms, his attorney said. Shortly afterward, he found McWilliams.
“Mr. Woody’s mental disorder clouded his judgment,” Cirisan said, noting that Woody had been declared incompetent to stand trial at one point.
Jurors, who have already seen photos of McWilliams’ wounded body, will also watch a video of the stabbing, taken by cameras at the laundromat.
“You’ll see what happened, how it happened,” Kerrigan told them.