1. Murder suspect's calls may be on tape
Hunt County: Jailer says he recorded attorney-client
conversations; DA says judge dismissed claim
KARIN SHAW ANDERSON Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Published: September 8, 2007
GREENVILLE - Brandon Dale Woodruff celebrated his 21st birthday in jail Thursday.
Legal experts say he had reason to hope for the ultimate gift - dismissal of the capital murder
indictment against him - after his defense lawyer discovered that phone calls between the two
may have been recorded by the jailer and shared with the prosecutor.
Mr. Woodruff is charged with stabbing and shooting his parents to death in their Hunt County
home near Royse City in October 2005. His attorney said in a motion to the court that the taped
conversations were heard by prosecutors and possibly witnesses in the case and included
discussions of trial strategy.
Hunt County District Attorney Duncan Thomas would not comment on the accusation of
misconduct, citing a gag order over every attorney and witness in the capital murder case.
"The defense has every reason to mistrust the prosecution and question whether this young man
will receive due process," said Monroe H. Freedman, an author and professor of legal ethics at
Hofstra University Law School in New York. "Dismissing the indictment would be an
He compared the gravity of the issue with that surrounding Mike Nifong, the former North
Carolina prosecutor who was disbarred and given a brief jail sentence after mishandling a rape
case against Duke University lacrosse players.
"This is such a basic, elementary violation of rule that there should be disciplinary action," Mr.
Mr. Thomas said Friday that he could say only what is public record about the allegations of
"The judge held a public hearing on that and found that we haven't done anything wrong," he
The trial, which had been set to begin this week, has been postponed until late October because
the defense asked for a continuance.
The day after 354th District Judge Richard A. Beacom Jr. denied the Aug. 30 motion to dismiss
the indictment, the Hunt County sheriff's chief jailer, Curtis Neel, signed an affidavit saying it
was no innocent mistake that privileged conversations were captured.
In the affidavit he said that in January, Assistant District Attorney Keli Aiken specifically
instructed him to record all of Mr. Woodruff's phone calls, and he recorded them sporadically for
about a month.
He said he resumed the recordings in May and continued them until coming forward. Mr. Neel
did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The defense motion also said recordings of another capital murder defendant's phone calls were
made improperly. An assistant to defense attorney Jerry Spencer Davis said he could not
comment because of the gag order.
2. Peter Ostermiller, a Kentucky lawyer who specializes in defending lawyers against complaints of
improper conduct, said a policy should be in place at the jail to prevent privileged conversations
from being recorded.
"But if this was pre-Nifong, probably not much would happen" after the accusations came to
light, Mr. Ostermiller said. "The court might suppress any information that came out in those
telephone calls, but that would be about it.
"But I think that in the post-Nifong era, they're going to be looking at cases more closely."
The question of whether Mr. Woodruff's constitutional rights to fair treatment and a fair trial
could be resolved if the district attorney stepped aside for a special prosecutor, he said.
"Those are significant constitutional issues that the assistant prosecutor has essentially ..."
abused, Mr. Ostermiller said. "In a capital murder case, those rights have to be jealously guarded
Even if it was only the assistant district attorney who listened to the tapes, incriminating
documents may remain that can be seen by others in the office, he said.
"It's like cancer," he said. "You can't contain it."
Court documents show that the prosecution team intends to talk in the trial about witness
allegations that Mr. Woodruff killed animals in his care on more than one occasion, stole from
his parents, abused his sister and participated in hardcore gay pornography.
If the judge decides to continue with the case as planned, Mr. Ostermiller said he doubts Mr.
Woodruff would later go free on appeal.
A new trial could be ordered, he said.
"But why risk a retrial when it's so easy to avoid?" he said, adding that the district attorney
should request a special prosecutor for the trial and possibly request a change of venue.
PHOTO(S): Brandon Woodruff, 21, is charged with killing his parents in 2005.
Copyright 2007 The Dallas Morning News