Wood found guilty

Published 1:03 am Thursday, April 17, 2008

VIDALIA — It only took a Concordia Parish jury 25 minutes to unanimously reach three guilty verdicts in the Connor Wood murder trial.

Standing with his arms crossed, Wood did not display any emotion as the court clerk read the verdicts for the charges of second-degree aloud.

Wood’s convictions were for killing his parents, John and Geraldine Wood, and his 16-year-old neighbor Matthew Whittington.

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During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Brad Burget said he was not there to defend Matthew Whittington.

“Whether or not Matthew was involved in this crime is irrelevant,” Burget said. “Whether those two boys conspired together or Connor set Matthew up as his patsy, either way Connor Wood is guilty of second-degree murder.”

Holding up a grisly crime scene photo to the jury, Burget also reminded jurors of how the Wood couple was found.

“These people were sleeping, snuggled up against each other in their bed, a loving couple, and they were executed,” Burget said.

“The last thing that went through their minds was, ‘My son just shot and killed me,’” Burget said. “That’s a hell of a note to live with throughout eternity.”

Because the jurors would make a decision that affected the rest of Wood’s life — the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder is a life sentence — Wood’s attorney Paul Lemke asked the jurors to consider his age when they came to their decision.

“Just make the right decision,” Lemke said.

During testimony Wednesday, the jury viewed two video confessions Wood made in the days following the murders.

The first video statement, taken the morning of the murders, Wood said he and Whittington had planned to kill his parents for approximately a month and a half because Wood’s parents fought often and he dreaded his father coming home from work.

In that statement, Wood said Whittington came over and killed the Wood couple, and that while Whittington was staging a forced entry into the house Wood became enraged and grabbed a gun from his parents’ bedroom.

When he met Whittington in the hall, he said he “emptied the gun” into him.

Wood said he then called 911 and that during the course of the conversation, the dispatcher gave him permission to kill Whittington, who was still alive at the time.

In the second statement, taken March 17, Wood maintained the details about the conspiracy but said that when Whittington arrived at his house that night he no longer wanted to go through with the crime.

In that statement, he said Whittington tried to convince him to go through with the killings, and that he, Wood, took the gun into his parents bedroom and fired into their bed, where they were sleeping.

At that point, Wood said Whittington met him in the hall and tried to convince him things would be better from then on, and went to stage the forced entry.

Wood said he went to his parents’ room, retrieved the second gun, and met Whittington in the hall.

“I was just so mad at him and I shot him,” Wood said in the statement.

Later, Wood said he had trouble remembering specific details of the killings.

“I feel like it wasn’t even me,” he said.

Dr. Karen Ross, a forensic pathologist and assistant coroner at the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office, who performed the autopsies on the Woods and Whittington, also testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

All three victims died because of the gunshot wounds they sustained that night, Ross said.

According to Ross’ testimony, Whittington suffered a gunshot wound to the face, two wounds to the back of his head, three wounds to the right side of his back, two wounds to the left side of his back and a wound to his right hip.

Likewise, Geraldine Wood received a gunshot wound to the face, one to her lower jaw, two to her right back, one to her upper chest, one to her right breast, two to her right arm, two to her left arm, and two to her right shoulder.

It was likely some of the bullets exited Geraldine Wood and entered John Wood because of their close proximity, Ross said.

John Wood received gunshot wounds to his right cheek, his neck, his right lower back, two to his right arm, two to his upper back and one to the back of his right hand.

All three victims received multiple wounds that would have been fatal, along with non-fatal wounds, Ross said.

Shots delivered to the bodies of Geraldine Wood and Matthew Whittington were delivered at a close enough range to leave gun powder residue and even a burn on Geraldine Wood’s skin, Ross said.

Ross said she was not able to determine the time of death because too many environmental factors might have come into play.

“Time of death is much more variable than they would lead you to believe on TV,” Ross said.

A low-caliber weapon, a 9 mm firearm, delivered the Woods wounds.

Whittington was wounded with two guns, a .32-caliber and a .22-caliber firearm.

Mike Stilly, from the North Louisiana Crime Lab in Alexandria testified that the bullet casings recovered on the scene could be linked to the weapons previously entered as evidence in the trial.

Stelly also testified that some of the bullets recovered from the scene and the bodies of the victims could be linked to the guns, though some of the bullets were too fragmentary to be specifically identified with a gun.

No fingerprints of value to the investigation could be removed from the guns, the bullet casings or the gun clips, Stelly said.

The state also had Max Jackson, a mutual friend of Connor Wood and Matthew Whittington, testify about the gloves Whittington was found wearing on the scene of the crime.

Jackson said he had hunted with Wood in the past, and that Whittington was not a hunter.

Jackson also identified the gloves as belonging to Wood.

After the verdict was rendered, at Lemke’s request Boothe ordered a pre-sentencing investigation to ensure everything was in order and had been conducted in a correct manner.

The trial lasted two days.

Wood will be sentenced April 30.