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S3 / EP34 Neighborhood Vengeance • William "Billy" Woodward

Does bullying constitute murder? Of course it doesn't. As you listen to this case, you'll most likely be disgusted at the behavior of pretty much all parties involved. How could adults behave like this? How could things escalate to such a degree that someone even considers murder?


This case is frustrating and sad, and is a stark warning that you never know what's going on in someone's mind, and you never know what someone's breaking point is.


This episode is sponsored by Athletic Greens. Get a free 1 year supply of immune-supporting Vitamin D and 5 FREE travel packs with your first purchase by visiting athleticgreens.com/EMERGING.


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Transcribed Episode / S3 EP34: Neighborhood Vengeance • William "Billy" Woodward


[Host]

This podcast contains content that may not be suitable for some listeners, listener discretion is advised. Head over to thecrimeshack.com for all available episodes, merchandise, and show notes, and be sure to subscribe to this podcast at Apple Podcast, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. To help support this show, you can become a Patreon Member for access to exclusive content, you can purchase merchandise on the Crime Shack website or just simply buy me a coffee. All support is greatly appreciated. This episode is sponsored by Athletic Greens, more on that later in the episode.


“A bad neighbor is a misfortune, as much as a good one is a great blessing.” I’m not sure who wrote that quote, but it definitely rings true of any neighbor that you live next to. A good neighbor can be super helpful, they can watch over your house when you’re gone, check on your plants, and your animals, and be a source of information for what’s going on around the neighborhood. Personally, I’ve always kept a kind distance from my neighbors - a wave ‘hello’ or maybe some pleasantries about their garden is usually as far as it goes for me. It’s not that I’m rude, but I know how things can quickly go south with a neighbor, and then you’re kind of stuck with that person living next to you. And if there’s a disagreement about something, well, things can get very ugly, very fast…

In 2012, a neighborly dispute led to the deaths of two people in Titusville Florida…. and it all started with a birthday present….

William “Billy” Theodore Woodward was an Army veteran who had served in the first Gulf War and was on disability. In 1998, he moved with wife Barbara Woodward, a Human Resources professional, and their two children to Smith Drive in Titusville, Florida where they bought a modest, one-story, 1100 square foot home.

Titusville is on the eastern coastline of Florida and sits about 40 miles east of Orlando. It’s also in Nasa country, situated about 13 miles from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center. When the Woodwards moved to the neighborhood, they were well liked and pretty popular among the residents. Directly across the street from them lived their friend of eight years, Gary Hembree and his two sons Zack & Corey, and his daughter Destiny. Next to Gary lived Bruce Blake (who went by “Tim”) and his wife, Keri.

The Woodwards, Hembrees and Blakes all initially got along and the families and their children spent time together and enjoyed each other’s company.

When Gary first moved in next to his friends the Woodwards, he was attentive to his home. Painted the house, fixed the roof and seemed to take good care of his property - and even though Billy wasn’t currently working and was on disability, the Woodwards had at one point even lent him some money, they were relieved to have such a responsible friend and neighbor.

Later on, Gary’s household grew and got much more active when his girlfriend, Kim Sillsbury, his friend, Roger Picior (Pee-KOR) and Roger’s girlfriend all moved in to Gary’s home with him.

It was the summer of 2012 and Billy and Barbara’s daughter Ava’s 12th birthday was coming up and a friend had dropped by the Woodward’s home and dropped off a gift for Ava, leaving it on their porch - assuming they weren’t home. When the Woodward’s checked the porch for the gift, it was gone.

They went around and asked the neighbors if they knew what happened to the present, and no one claimed to have seen it. The Woodwards suspected Gary’s daughter Destiny of stealing it from their porch and confronted Gary about it, which he adamantly denied. Frustrated with not getting a confession from their neighbor, the Woodwards called police. When the police arrived, they questioned the neighbors, including Gary, but nothing came of it because they really didn’t have enough information - the package seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Gary was so offended and angry that police had questioned his daughter and that she was being accused of being a thief by the Woodwards, that the two families began to throw insults at each other whenever given the opportunity.

The police were called to the neighborhood multiple times for any little reason, and every single time they would tell everyone to calm down and go back to their respective houses, that there was nothing they could do. Billy called the police on Gary for parking his truck on his grass instead of his driveway. Gary called the police telling them Billy was raising chickens illegally in his backyard. The Woodwards had about 20 chickens in their backyard that Billy considered “therapy animals” for his PTSD and Anxiety from his days in the military. But after Gary turned him in, he was forced to find them new homes. That’s when things escalated between Gary and Billy, and the Blakes took Gary’s side in the dispute, which grew increasingly volatile.

When Billy’s parents would drop by to visit, they too, were harassed by the neighbors. They were yelled at and were taunted and told by one neighbor that they were going to get their heads bashed in by a baseball bat. As a result, Billy’s father, a former police officer, ended up buying his son a surveillance camera for the house. Meanwhile, the back and forth harassment had made Keri Blake, Kim Sillsbury, and Roger’s girlfriend feel threatened by Billy and they filed for a protection order against him. He in turn, filed one against them.

Eventually, all three families, the Woodards, the Hembrees, and the Blakes were required to appear in court before a district court judge, asking for protection orders against each other. The judge denied all of the orders, essentially telling them all to go home and “play nice.”

Immediately after the hearing, Billy, furious at the outcome, went up to Gary in the parking lot and told him “Are you ready to die?” and picked Gary up by his neck and threw him up against a car. Neither of them were injured in the brawl, but Billy was arrested, then later released.

Just past midnight on the night of September 3, 2012, five days after the judge denied the protective orders, Billy put on camouflage gear, grabbed his 9mm Beretta pistol, and snuck out of the house with his wife and kids inside sleeping. Once outside his house, he got down on the ground on his front lawn and began army-crawling towards Gary’s house.

That night, Gary, Roger, their children and a few others were having a rowdy barbeque and drinking in their yard.

Roger was wrestling his visiting 17-year-old son Justin on the lawn of Gary’s house when he saw Billy approach out of the darkness. Startled by seeing Billy, Justin jumped off his father’s back and then Billy lifted his gun and pulled the trigger. He shot Roger in the chest, and he slumped to the ground. Billy then walked over to Tim’s house. Tim was standing in his carport and when he saw Billy he tried to rush back into the house, but Billy followed him and shot him eleven times until he fell to the ground.

By this time, the sound of the gunshots was overheard by Gary and he ran out of his house with his girlfriend Kim and said “what the hell is going on out here?”

Billy had reloaded his weapon with 15 more rounds and walked towards the front of Gary’s house. The minute Gary stepped out his front door, he shot him in the chest, and he slumped to the ground. Billy then walked up and shot Gary again multiple times.

He then went back to Roger to make sure he was dead. Roger was laying on his stomach and Justin was there next to him. With Justin watching, Billy grabbed Roger and turned him over, and shot him twice in the head. Billy then casually walked back to his house and sat on his lawn, waiting for police to arrive.

Many of the neighbors had called 911 as soon as the shots rang out. One neighbor yelled out from across the street “You alright?” and Billy yelled out “I got ‘em all! I got ‘em all!”

Gary and Roger died immediately at the scene and shockingly, Tim somehow managed to survive his multiple injuries.

Police arrived and Billy was quickly brought in for questioning. When at the police station, Billy waived his Miranda rights and fully admitted to shooting his neighbors. He said he did so in order to protect his family and because the neighbors had been threatening them for a long time. He told the authorities that quote "We've been tormented for the last month by these people. They've been tormenting my parents, making threats, against them. They've made our life a living hell. We can't even let our kids outside." Police pulled Billy’s own surveillance video footage from that night and he was clearly seen on camera crawling on the ground towards Gary’s house - apparently trying to avoid being detected.

Although it appeared from the video that Billy was stalking and intending to kill his neighbors, he told police that he didn’t think he should go to jail for the shootings:

[William "Billy" Woodward Interview with Police]


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Now the war's over.


[Police Officer]

Is it?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

I promise you those people will not harass my family or me, again.


[Police Officer]

Do you feel like you should go to jail for this?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

No, because I have pleaded, I have begged and I have asked for help. no I don't deserve to go to jail for this. Those sorry *** deserve to go to jail for what they did to me and my family for the last month, making us live like prisoners in our own home.


[Police Officer]

Well yeah.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

I'm a solider, I fought the war, I fought to win, and I won.


[Host]

Also during that initial interview, he did not mention anything about self defense.

When Billy described shooting Roger in the head, he told police that he did that because quote: “to make sure there’s no survivors on the battlefield, I point-blank shot him in the head once or twice.”

He said that the only reason that Tim survived was simple: he ran out of bullets. Billy had fired a total of 31 shots that night. After the interview with police, he was arrested for double murder and attempted murder.

At the preliminary hearing, Billy’s defense team tried to claim that he couldn’t be prosecuted for murder because of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law.

This controversial law requires proof that the defendant reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. If this can be proved, then the defendant cannot be prosecuted for that offense.

Billy took the stand at the Stand Your Ground preliminary hearing, saying that on the night of the shooting, he’d overheard the neighbors shouting taunts at him and that he thought one of them said they had a gun. Then he said he saw someone light something on fire - thinking it was a molotov cocktail meant for his house - it would turn out to be just a palm frond that Gary had lit on fire. He then thought he heard the men planning on coming to get him:


[William Woodward Trial: Prosecutor Gary Beatty]


[William "Billy" Woodward]

They were becoming more hostile and the threats were becoming more real.


[Defense Attorney]

There were periods of time when you were actually angry and enraged, is that correct?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Yes sir.


[Defense Attorney]

Did you get a gun, walk across the street and shoot somebody?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

No sir! And I distinctly heard from my house, with my window cracked, four cracks of a .22 automatic firearm - unmistakeable cracks of a 22 rifle or pistol and I heard "bang bang bang"! They've got a gun, oh my God, to that effect, they've got a gun.


[Defense Attorney]

So to that point in time, what's going on in your head.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Death for me and my family. Then that was serious.


[Defense Attorney]

Why didn't you call 911?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

They don't come! The last time I called the cops it took them 10 minutes to get there, left me hanging down the road with my dog. Out and exposed with nothing to protect me. If I'm inside my house I'm trapped like a rat.


[Deborah Roberts, ABC Host]

Outside now his house with his gun and extra ammo, the former soldier says he hears the men planning to come get him.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

It's the gathering of the forces that cased me to snap into action and do what I did.


[Defense Attorney]

Is that where you were at that point in time, were you at war?


[William "Billy" Woodward]

You're dog gone right I was! War had been declared upon my house and family and myself. Now I'm the only living link between my wife and children and eminent death. Do you not understand that sir?


[Host]

But when cross examined by the prosecutor at the hearing, Billy was asked if the shooting was a military operation. His reaction to that question was strange, he went quiet and closed his eyes for a few seconds, then finally responded:


[William Woodward Trial: Prosecutor Gary Beatty]

[Prosecutor Gary Beatty]

You told the officer that you were back on the battlefield.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Yes sir, I was trained.


[Prosecutor Gary Beatty]

How much time did you personally spend in infantry combat on the battlefield.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Infantry combat?


[Prosecutor Gary Beatty]

Yes sir.


[William "Billy" Woodward]

Zero. I was full guard duty sir.


[Host]

Billy also admitted on the stand that when he approached Gary to shoot him, he thought Gary had a weapon in his hand, but after he shot him, he saw that it was actually a coffee mug.

The judge ultimately ruled that the Stand Your Ground law could not be invoked. He said that he didn’t buy the defense’s argument that there was an imminent threat to Billy’s family, but instead stated that it was Billy who was the aggressor - that what he did was essentially a preemptive strike. The case would be going to trial.


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[Host]

At trial, Prosecutor Gary Beatty gave his opening statement talking about how Billy described himself in his own words the night of the shooting as “a "warrior... a hunter and a killer." That he described the people he shot as his prey and that he was at war with them.


[William Woodward Trial: Prosecutor Gary Beatty]


[Prosecutor Gary Beatty]

So what he's now asking this court to do is to say " I may have been mistaken about what I believe was about to happen. And yes based on that mistake, I killed two people, but nevermind I shouldn't be held accountable for that.


[Host]

Beatty stressed that none of the victims were armed - something that Billy had readily admitted to during his interview with police - and said that although the victims' bullying behavior was disgusting, that didn’t give Billy the right to leave his property and go and kill them.

Barbara Woodward, Billy’s wife, testified in court and said that they were constantly harassed by the neighbors and that they would yell obscenities at her daughter Ava as she walked home from the bus stop. She recounted that Keri Blake shockingly told her daughter, quote “that she would rape my daughter up the ass, and she said that she would have all the neighbors participate, and then she would burn down my house.”


[William "Billy" Woodward Trial]


[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

Did you ever specifically have any conversation with them, asking them to control their children and not have them taunt your daughter?

[Barbara Woodward]

Oh yes.

[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

What was their reaction?


[Barbara Woodward]

They would, Gary and Kim would yell at the girls “you leave her alone” and that didn’t stop anything.

[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

Di you have any specific conversation with Kim regarding her children’s activities against Ava on the bus?

[Barbara Woodward]

Oh yes, several times.

[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

What kinds of things were you concerned about?

[Barbara Woodward]

They would go out of their way to sit next to Ava on the bus and verbally torment her. And when you’re a kid it’s a big deal. They would call her names, they would try to trip her, they would push her, they would pull her hair. It was every day, constant.

[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

Describe to the jury what you were talking about in terms of harassment, you also mentioned the terminology of “threats” what did you mean by threats during this period of time?

[Barbara Woodward]

The children would talk about how they would kick Ava’s ass, they were with my family. I remember exactly now, she stood in that driveway, told me she would sick her kids on my daughter, she would have them, tell them to harass my daughter until she could not function anymore.

[Defense Attorney Robert Berry]

Again, I’m not trying to upset you, the question I’d ask, specifically you had used the term “threats” what did you mean by threats that they directed toward you.

[Barbara Woodward]

Keri said that she would rape my daughter up the ass and she said that she would have all the neighbor's participate and that she would burn down my house.


[Host]

At one point the neighbors threatened them with a gun, saying they could do whatever they wanted, they could even shoot Woodward's dog.

She said the bullying never stopped and grew progressively worse over time, saying quote: "It started out as yelling insults at us from across the street and honking their car horns as they passed our house. I took the threats very seriously, I was really scared, I was afraid of what they might do, I had no doubt they were capable of doing it."

She said she’d started taking antidepressant medications and her 4-year-old son had started stuttering because of the harassment.

Her hope was that the bullying would stop if they ignored it, but it just became worse and things seemed to take a turn when the protection order was denied. At that point she felt helpless - if she called police they would tell her there was nothing they could do. She said her family tried to do the right thing but felt as though the courts and police weren't protecting them. She knew that they would have to move out of the home they’d lived in for the past 14 years. They went and put a bid on another house and their offer was accepted. They had an appointment to sign the mortgage papers the day after the shooting.

William Woodward's attorney Robert Berry said that on the day of the shootings their client believed his family's worst fears were about to be realized. They said he claimed to have heard one of the victims say, 'Let's end this." His attorney said that that was when he was within his right to act, but the prosecutor said that is when he should have called police.

Tim Blake, who was shot six times in his stomach and five times in his leg, testified and recounted the long-standing feud with his neighbor. He said he used to be close friends with the Woodwards and that Billy had lent him money, and paid his rent once and had even bought his children shoes. He admitted on the stand that he had a mace type of weapon he referred to as his "shark killer," hanging in his carport the night of the shooting.

Tim’s wife Keri also testified, and confirmed that it was Gary Hembree’s girlfriend Kim Sillsbury who said she was going to have the Woodwards’ daughter raped, and that she also made similar comments “in the heat of moment.” She confirmed that all of the families involved were throwing out taunts to one another back and forth for weeks and that Billy had threatened to kill her and other neighbors multiple times.

As I was watching the video of the yelling, and taunting and honking going on between the families, I couldn’t help but wonder, my god can you imagine living on that street? Being one of the other neighbors who wasn’t involved in the dispute but had to endure that kind of insane turmoil on a daily basis? Here’s one of those neighbors, Scott and Lydia Crow talking with journalist Deborah Roberts on ABC’s 20/20, about what they thought of the insanity going on in their neighborhood:

[ABC's 20/20 with Deborah Roberts]


[Lydia Crow]

They all ganged up on Billy and his wife and his family.

[Deborah Roberts]

Scott and Lydia Crow who lived behind Billy and Barbara Woodward had a front row seat to the fued. They’re taking Woodward’s side.

[Scott Crow]

There’s all kinds of name-calling, most of it I wouldn’t say in public, it was so vulgar that you wouldn’t use these kinds of words against anybody.

[Deborah Roberts]

Was it kind of bullying?

[Lydia Crow]

Yes, it was adult bullying is exactly what it was.

[Scott Crow]

And anytime he would call the police department it was six people’s word against his.

[Deborah Roberts]

They say they were even drawn into the conflict when Keri Blake threatened them and other neighbors.

[Scott Crow]

And Keri took her finger and pointed it at our house, and pointed it at Billy’s house, and said “we’re going to get you, and we’re going get you, and we’re going to get you.”

[Deborah Roberts]

Did it scare you?

[Scott and Lydia Crow]

Oh yeah.

[Lydia Crow]

To the point that I used to carry a gun, taking my dogs out, in my own backyard, my own fenced backyard.

[Deborah Roberts]

You would wear a gun just to take your dogs outside?

[Lydia Crow]

Yes.

[Deborah Roberts]

Did they ever brandish guns or weapons, I mean was there any reason to think that they would really pull a gun on you?

[Lydia Crow]

They talked about guns.


[Deborah Roberts] But they didn’t show you any guns?

[Scott and Lydia Crow]

No.