By Catherine Hamilton
RIVERSIDE, CA — Riverside County Superior Court Judge Charles Koosed Friday upheld the jury’s recommendation for a death penalty sentence in the retrial of 2001 murder case against Steve Woodruff for killing a police officer.
In 2001, the police officer was responding to a noise complaint near Woodruff’s home when he and his fellow officer, who survived, were shot at by Woodruff, who is Black, after police were confronting Woodruff’s mother and brother while responding to the loud music complaint.
Woodruff was convicted of premeditated murder and attempted murder during his 2003 trial, and was sentenced to death. Woodruff maintains that he is innocent.
According to an article from The Press Enterprise, his death penalty sentence was overturned in 2018 by the California Supreme Court, though Woodruff’s conviction was still upheld.
The justices ruled one jury candidate was improperly dismissed: he had answered in a questionnaire that he was strongly opposed to the death penalty, but was willing to put his personal beliefs aside in accordance with the law. The court ruled that he should not have been dismissed without further questioning.
Even though the defense provided evidence that Woodruff has been a model prisoner—he was provided with privileged housing at San Quentin because of his good behavior—the jury of the retrial again recommended the death penalty for Woodruff in October.
And Friday, the judge agreed and sentenced Woodruff to death.
In his sentencing, the judge provided the court with the information from the trial that was considered in his decision.
One prominent point was the circumstance of the murder, which was declared premediated and deliberate under the special circumstances of killing to prevent a lawful arrest and killing a police officer.
Additionally, the judge said, special circumstances were included because Woodruff’s daughter was in their house, and by shooting at the officers, he placed his daughter in the unnecessary danger of crossfire.
Also considered, the judge noted, was that Woodruff has no prior felony convictions, has no mental health issues, and understands the criminality of his act.
Further acknowledged was the defense’s argument that Woodruff has a loving relationship with his mom, is unlikely to commit future dangerous acts, and there is the possibility of remaining doubt in the case.
However, as stated by the judge before listing the considerations, Woodruff had “absolutely no respect for human life.” The judge upheld the death penalty because of the severity of the crime.
After the sentencing, the victim’s mother, wife, daughter, and sister gave concluding thoughts on the trial; all four said how traumatic reliving his death was to them.
The victim’s mother said that her son “was the epitome of a mother’s pride and joy” in her statement when talking about the fulfilling life he had led up until his death.
His daughter, who was only months old at the time of his death, stressed how the image of her father—whom she has no memories of—being shot now replays constantly in her head.
“I was left fatherless all because of a loud music call… Every day I grieve the father I should have had,” she said.
After the victim’s loved ones gave their statements, Woodruff also provided testimony. He said that God would prevail in providing justice for him, because he still claims that the victim was killed by friendly crossfire. However, he did say, “I don’t expect anyone to forgive me.”