Florida Man Released From Prison Only To Prepare His Return
Robert Woodall, 35, was freed from prison on an appeal after serving 11 years, but may have to prepare to return. Back in 2004, Woodall and his partner, Stephanie Walker, were living in Orlando, Florida, when their second child, a boy, was born. Walker suffered from severe postpartum depression following his birth. The relationship grow tense, and Woodall left. At the time, he was doing really well for himself making $3000 a week, but began to hang out with an influential crowd of wrongdoers. Walker went back to her hometown of Houston with the kids.
On Christmas Eve, Woodall had been drinking and had gotten himself into a drunken brawl in which he fired a shot that ricocheted and struck a man in the leg. Woodall had prior offenses for marijuana and drug paraphernalia possession, so he was charged with aggravated battery and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush first proposed the hard-and-fast statute, which applied to both first-time offenders and habitual offenders alike, during his 1998 campaign, hoping to put a stop to gun violence.
Woodall’s lawyer was eventually able to convince an appeals court that the jury could not have made all the findings necessary to apply a tough, 20-year minimum sentence. A judge agreed, and re-sentenced Woodall to the 11 years he had already served, so the inmate was immediately able to walk. The man reunited with his fiancee and children, purchased a home and started a lawn care business. He even bought a large, wrap around sectional big enough to fit his whole family on. “I’m just happy we can all be on one couch,” Walker said, as the family began to prepare the rest of their lives together.
However, Florida prosecutors appealed the order, arguing that the original 20-year mandatory minimum was in fact more appropriate, and now it’s not clear how long Woodall will be sharing that couch with the rest of his family. “It’s really hard for me to think about because I’ve been trying hard to be part of everything I’ve missed,” the 35-year-old Woodall said. “Even the simple stuff, it could be the last time I take out the trash.” All of that could be taken away once again.
In March, the Fifth District Court of Appeals threw out the revised sentence and reimposed the 20-year term. The court said the jury was prepared to make the necessary findings to impose the mandatory minimum.
The Florida statute “was for repeat offenders robbing liquor stores and pawn shops and using a firearm,” Greg Newburn, a policy expert at Families Against Mandatory Minimums, said of the inappropriateness of using Bush’s statute in this case. “They weren’t really thinking of scuffles that got out of hand where someone fires a gun at the ground.”
The family has been forced to make contingency plans as they prepare to hear from the state Supreme Court. They are making changes to their day to day to accommodate the worse, and Walker is readying herself to take over the lawn business.
“If he goes back, they’ll be starting their own lives when he gets released,” she said of their boys. “And you just have to hope the system will do them justice, too.”