Brandon Woodruff was convicted in 2009 of killing his parents but still maintains his innocence. He’s now found a handful of people who believe his story, so much so, they’ve recently published a book proclaiming his innocence. They’re also working on a documentary and launched a website FreeBrandon.org.
Cute twink Brandon Woodruff shed his country skin at 18, joining the private gay party circuit, dancing late nights in a flashy gay Dallas disco and flying to Fort Lauderdale to star in a pornographic movie under the name Bradley Rivers after a scout for San Diego-based Helix Studios spotted him shirtless on a dance floor.
A boss of the self-described “twink, college and jock porn” film company, owned a home in Fort Lauderdale, and he filmed Woodruff and other young guys in and around his swimming pool in films such as “Pool Party Punks” and one filmed in Dallas called “Tightend Twinks.”
The producer also entertained the fledgling porn actors in grand style at the old Copa Club where he was friends with the management. Woodruff earned $1,000 for a few days’ porn work, and he lavished the money on his friends in Texas.
But the gaiety all came to a tragic halt after only a year with Woodruff being charged in connection with the gruesome 2005 double murders of his parents in Royse City, Texas. A jury convicted him and handed down a life sentence without parole, one that he is now serving in the Hughes Unit of the Texas Department of Corrections in Gatesville.
Woodruff — who claims wrongful punishment for a crime he did not commit — never emerged from behind bars except for court appearances after his arrest. As a freshman at Abilene Christian University with recently deceased parents, he was unable to make a $1 million bond. He recently answered questions submitted to him by a Jpay.com email in a telephone recording after spending 13 years in confinement. He talked candidly about his life in prison, and what landed him there.
The occasion for Woodruff’s speaking out is the recent publication of a book by a Fort Myers, Florida, author about his case. It alleges an unjust, homophobic investigation, prosecution and conviction destroyed the youth’s life. There is a planned release of a documentary with the same message for later this year. Woodruff, now 31, hopes the book and the documentary will gain him public support and a review of his case that will lead to freedom.
Woodruff said that at the time of the trial he always believed he would ultimately be acquitted of the murders, and the conviction devastated him. He said that he loved his parents, that he never had serious problems with them and that he could never harm anyone, let alone the two people he loved the most. He and his grandmother had made plans to go out to a celebratory dinner in anticipation of him leaving court and regaining his freedom after three years in jail.
‘I did not kill my parents’
“I was shocked,” Woodruff said. “I was confused. I was angry. I was scared. I was sad. It was like a tidal wave of emotions going through my entire system. I specifically remember standing there, trying to stand tall and firm with what I knew was the truth. I did not kill my parents. But yet there are 12 people over there that just said they believe I did it. It was a gut-wrenching moment. Later, I threw up all my lunch in the jail cell. It was disbelief, but at the same time it was coming together like one big nightmare. I really wanted to talk to the jury. It was horrible.”
Woodruff said his life changed overnight, with him being catapulted into a bizarre, terrifying environment with exposure to types of people he never before encountered. Except for one older boyfriend who attended some court proceedings and wrote to him a few times, Woodruff never again saw his gay friends after being jailed.
He also never again heard from anyone at Helix Studios, which had planned more work for him. A studio official named Keith Miller answered a subpoena from the Texas Attorney General’s Office, providing information about Woodruff’s porn work for the prosecution’s case. The prosecution savaged Woodruff’s character at the trial, citing his sexual orientation and his brief work in pornography.
“I kind of got plucked out of reality as a normal person would know it and put in this whole other world,” Woodruff said. “I had to grow up really fast. At first it was really terrifying. I was afraid of my own shadow. I had never had any serious fights growing up, and so just being put in this environment was really nerve-wracking for a while. I’ve kind of relaxed a little, but you can never relax completely because you are constantly having to watch your surroundings. I’ve never been severely beaten up or raped so I feel like maybe my mom and dad are still watching over me.”
Woodruff said that despite the trauma of losing his parents, being arrested, confined in jail for three years before the trial and his conviction, he has never lost hope that he would one day be exonerated for the hideous stabbing and shooting deaths of his parents.
‘I’ve never lost hope’
“I can easily say I’ve never lost hope,” Woodruff said. “There’s a line in a book I read once that said, ‘you can put a bird in a cage but you can’t stop it from singing.’ I won’t ever stop saying I’m innocent. I won’t ever stop fighting for the truth. I won’t just sit around and wait for other people to help me. I’m going to talk to as many people as I can to get the story out there. I think the more people learn about my case and go digging they will see I’m innocent. And they will see what that town did. I think the more exposure we get on it that they will eventually have to do the right thing. I do believe justice will eventually prevail. Right now, there’s been no justice for my mom and dad. There’s people walking around out there that really committed the crime.”
Woodruff’s plight is the message of “Railroaded: The Homophobic Prosecution of Brandon Woodruff for His Parents’ Murders,” a new book authored by retired lawyer Phillip Crawford, Jr.; and “Texas Justice: Brandon Woodruff,” a documentary under production by Scott Poggensee. The filmmaker has also established FreeBrandon.org, a website devoted to restoring the freedom of the former college freshman and weekend party boy.
Crawford, a former New York litigator who now lives in Florida, and Poggensee, an emergency medical technician and novice filmmaker who lives in a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb, are convinced that Woodruff, now 31, was innocent of the brutal, double-murder of his parents in their home in Royse City in October 2005.
They contend the investigation of the bloody murders of Dennis and Norma Woodruff — who died from multiple shooting and stabbing wounds — and the prosecution and conviction of their son in March 2009 in homophobic Greenville reflected an anti-gay bias. In their view, law enforcement officials, prosecutors, the judge and the jury all allowed their religious convictions to overrule their reason, resulting in an innocent youth being incarcerated while the real killer or killers escaped punishment.
The prosecution theorized that Woodruff killed his parents after they confronted their son about him being gay, his failing grades in college and his fledgling porn star career. The prosecutors also attributed Woodruff’s motive to a life insurance policy owned by his parents naming him as a beneficiary that would allow him to continue his party life without interference. Woodruff’s supporters have countered that prosecutors presented no evidence to show any conflict ever existed between the parents and the son.
Crawford, who is also the author of “The Mafia and the Gays” published in 2015, said he became aware of Woodruff’s case in April 2017 when he was browsing profiles on the Write a Prisoner website after reading about the program in a news story. He came across Woodruff’s profile and decided to research the case. After reviewing the briefs of the case and the news coverage of the trial, he developed doubts about Woodruff’s guilt. He viewed the evidence against Woodruff as flimsy, and he noted the prisoner had passed two polygraph tests.
‘The case bothered me to my core’
“The case bothered me to my core,” Crawford said. “The risk that Brandon Woodruff was convicted based on the prejudicial effect of the homophobic narrative employed by state prosecutors was amplified in my opinion due to the weak evidence against him. Something just did not seem right about his conviction; none of it made sense to me.”
The prosecution of Woodruff raised ethical questions early on before the trial. Woodruff’s lawyers discovered prosecutors had eavesdropped on their telephone conversations with the defendant in the Hunt County Detention Center where he sat unable to make a $1 million bond. The presiding judge ruled prosecutors had violated Woodruff’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and he ordered the Hunt County District Attorney to recuse himself so the Texas Attorney General could take charge.
In May 2017 Crawford wrote to Woodruff expressing his interest in writing a book, and the prisoner quickly responded with answers to the questions posed by the author. Soon, Poggensee also reached out to Crawford, offering to share information he had acquired while working on the documentary. They joined forces in a combined effort to raise awareness about Woodruff’s case.
“The principal motivation was that I believe Brandon Woodruff has been wronged by the so-called criminal justice system — railroaded, if you will — and the deeper I got into the case the more outraged I became at the cumulative injustices against him from arrest through trial, and conviction through appeals. The main focus for me was the homophobic narrative by state prosecutors against him in which a young gay boy’s coming out process was treated as some sinister double-life, essentially evoking The Talented Mr. Ripley.”
Woodruff said he was shocked early on to realize that investigators and prosecutors began focusing on his sexual orientation as a major factor in his case.
“The state wanted to argue to people that because I didn’t tell certain people I was gay; that if I could lie about being gay I could lie about being a murderer, and that’s just not the case,” Woodruff said. “I was coming to find myself, and I didn’t feel like I needed to go around telling every single person what Brandon was doing in his private life. I do know the state was telling people they had evidence. But when asked what it was, the state said we can’t tell you, but just trust us. The main central issue was if I could lie about being gay I could lie about being a murderer. That’s just not true.”
‘He just looked too innocent to do something like that’
Poggensee said he first became aware of Woodruff’s case in 2005 immediately after his arrest on charges he killed his parents. He was at dinner at TGI Friday’s with two friends when Woodruff’s mug shot flashed on the television screen in the restaurant. One of the friends said, “Oh, my God. That’s my ex-boyfriend.” The filmmaker-to-be immediately became intrigued by the case.
“I had no idea who Brandon was at that point, however his mug shot did not look like someone that could commit such a cold-blooded double homicide,” Poggensee said. “I realize you can’t spot a murderer, but he just looked too innocent to do something like that.”
Poggensee followed the case through its climax more than three years after Woodruff’s arrest. After the conviction, Poggensee wrote to Woodruff in prison, and the prisoner finally wrote back to him a year later. They became pen pals, and Poggensee visited him in prison a couple of years later. The filmmaker obtained all of the public court records from the trial, and he studied the massive paperwork to get the “true picture.”
“In about May 2017 I finally just told him, ‘Brandon, if you want people to know about your case, you’re going to have to make some kind of movie or something about it.’ I didn’t think we could expect anyone to sift through tens of thousands of pages of documents, but I didn’t have any problem asking someone to sit through an hour-long documentary. It was from there I thought to myself, I have a camera, and I have a computer. I can make the documentary. Little did I know what a massive project I was taking on.”
Poggensee said his motivation is stoked by outrage that the criminal justice system can so miserably fail citizens, and that the public is so blind to what occurs. News coverage of Woodruff’s arrest and trial focused solely on the information fed to the media by the prosecution, he said.
“At some point I think that we as a nation need to stand up and say enough is enough,” Poggensee said. “We need to not only fight for the falsely convicted but to fight to make sure this type of thing doesn’t happen in the first place. Brandon’s situation could have been very well avoided if just one investigator or one assistant district attorney had stood up and said, ‘You know what? Maybe we don’t have the right person. Maybe there truly isn’t enough evidence to say this guy did it for sure. Maybe we need to take a second look at it.’ No one ever did that. Once they arrested Brandon it became let’s prove Brandon did it.”
In response to author Crawford’s book, “Railroaded,” that portrayed the investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the prosecution by the Texas Attorney General’s Office as biased by homophobia, the prosecution did not respond to an email seeking comment, but Tom Vinger of the Media and Communications Office provided a statement by email.
“Law enforcement professionals from the local, state and federal level participated in this investigation,” the statement reads. “The investigative findings were presented to a Hunt County grand jury, which indicted Brandon Woodruff for the murder of his parents. A trial jury weighed the views of both parties, as well as the evidence presented, and ultimately found Woodruff guilty of the murders – and the appellate courts upheld that verdict. As in all cases, the Texas Rangers defer to the decision of the jury – and appellate courts.”
“In all cases, as with this one, the Texas Rangers are committed to conducting thorough and impartial investigations. This includes gathering the facts and evidence, which are then turned over to the appropriate criminal justice officials, who determine the next steps in each case.”
‘Time is very precious on earth, and they are spending it for me’
Woodruff said that he is grateful to Crawford and Poggensee for their efforts to raise public awareness about his case. Except for one item in the Dallas Voice after his conviction, the allegations of homophobia in the case went unnoticed and unreported by the media, he said.
“It means the world to me, and it actually means a lot more than that,” Woodruff said. “I think they will help me get the story out. I’ve been extremely thankful for and appreciate their time, dedication and energy. In a way, I feel really inadequate because they are doing everything for me, and I can’t go out and get a job to help cover the expenses. I can never thank them enough. Time is very precious on earth, and they are spending it for me.”
Poggensee said there is speculation about who might have killed Woodruff’s parents, but that information cannot be revealed yet. “We’re not ready,” he said.
Both Crawford and Poggensee said they hope the book and the documentary will lead to an outcry from the public that will influence an investigation and review of Woodruff’s conviction by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. A three-judge panel from the Sixth District Court of Criminal Appeals in Texarkana expressed concerns about the legitimacy of weapons produced as evidence in the trial, but it upheld the verdict in 2010.
Poggensee’s goal is to finish the documentary by Aug. 1. He has already spent $30,000 on the project in addition to his time. He took a class on filmmaking at the Lone Star Film Festival, and he participated in a webinar on film marketing in anticipation of distributing the documentary. He would like to see it screened at a film festival to garner professional interest and support. He notes that he reached out to everyone involved in the investigation and prosecution of Woodruff, and that none of them would participate in the documentary.
Contacted for this story, the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statement saying its investigators “defer to the decision of the jury and appellate courts.”
“In all cases, as with this one, the Texas Rangers are committed to conducting thorough and impartial investigations,” the department said. “This includes gathering the facts and evidence, which are then turned over to the appropriate criminal justice officials, who determine the next steps in each case.
Crawford’s book has attracted some attention since its release in May of this year. One of Woodruff’s defense lawyers, Katherine Ferguson, read it and left a review. “I am the attorney who tried the case for Brandon,” she wrote. “Mr. Crawford has done an excellent job of setting forth facts — not speculation or prejudice — that show Brandon Woodruff is innocent.”