Woodson's plea: I-64 shooter convicted of 14 counts
As the indictments were read, 20-year-old Slade Woodson stood in Albemarle Circuit Court Wednesday and said "guilty" 14 times, the aftermath of a beer-fueled shooting rampage that shut down Interstate 64 and Albemarle County public schools nearly a year ago.
He was facing 28 to 150 years in jail and $900,000 in fines, although the prosecutor said that under sentencing guidelines, it's unlikely Woodson–- incarcerated since March–- will serve as much as 28 years.
Woodson had been expected to plead guilty December 3; instead, he asked for a new attorney to replace Public Defender Jim Hingeley.
At issue, Commonwealth's Attorney Denise Lunsford told Judge Cheryl Higgins, was a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years that Woodson was facing for two felony firearm charges. Lunsford dropped one of those charges, reducing the total felonies to 14 and opening the door to a three-year mandatory minimum for using a gun while committing a felony.
"I think this plea is a fair compromise that accurately reflects Mr. Woodson's desire to take responsibility," said Woodson's new lawyer, Jessica Smith, noting that her client wanted to avoid putting the victims through a trial. Appearing today in court in a tie instead of the prison garb he's worn over the past year, Woodson limited his remarks to answering simple questions from the judge.
"One of the considerations I had," said prosecutor Lunsford, explaining why she decided to accept a plea in what she called a "very provable" case, "was the number of agencies involved, bringing in the victims, the expense to the Commonwealth, and the burden on the victims."
The events that shut down a 20-mile stretch of I-64 began the evening of March 26, when Woodson and then-16-year-old Brandon Dawson drove around in Woodson's orange AMC Gremlin, a distinctive vehicle later captured on video in Waynesboro.
The two got together to work on cars, said Lunsford. They also were drinking beer and firing a .22-caliber rifle belonging to Woodson's employer and later reported stolen, Lunsford told Judge Higgins. (Having already pleaded guilty, Dawson was sentenced July 8 to six months on top of the three he'd already spent in juvenile detention.)
Woodson allegedly admits to a litany of targets: an electrical transformer, an occupied residence on Dry Bridge Road, the Ivy Post Office, a deer on Miller School Road, and–- launching the panic–- at a car and a truck underneath I-64 at exit 114 at Ivy. The pair then went to mile marker 107, Lunsford said, and fired from an overpass at westbound traffic, hitting three more vehicles.
Lunsford said that Woodson fired at another occupied dwelling on Greenwood Road and then drove over to Waynesboro, where he's already been sentenced to two years for firing at an occupied home, a bank, and a vehicle.
In Albemarle, the 14-felony plea consists of two counts of malicious wounding (two drivers were slightly injured), attempted malicious wounding, five counts of shooting into an occupied motor vehicle, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, three counts shooting from a motor vehicle, and two counts of firing into an occupied dwelling.
Lunsford noted that there could have been more charges for other shots taken that night, such as the Ivy Post Office and a bullet-riddled VDOT vehicle.
Woodson faces sentencing June 23.
"I am relieved this is over, and I'm relieved for the community," Lunsford said following the hearing. "I think back to those two days in March–- the schools were closed, and we didn't know if we were dealing with another D.C. sniper."
–last updated 3:02pm