I wouldn’t have heard about this case had I not received several letters from Gordon “Woody” Mower—seven to be precise. He had gotten my name from some law firm in Bronx NY and had written to me in April when Alex first arrived… several insistent, pleading letters that gave me the impression of a drowning man desperately grasping for the only rope he could find.
Alex has a well-developed “bullshit meter,” and I asked him to read Woody’s first letter to tell me what he thought. Despite his many claims of wanting to work for inmates who needed help, to my knowledge Alex never even looked at the letter. He couldn’t care less, and Woody sent me a second plaintive letter asking me if the first one had arrived.
I finally answered Woody, telling him that things were falling apart in my world, that resources were tight, and we were struggling to achieve traction with the media which is so essential to funding and taking on any new commitments. But Woody would not be deterred.
He told me that he had already served 20 years of a life-without-parole sentence, that there had been numerous official irregularities in his case, that he had been induced to commit his crime by an accomplice—a cousin—who had gotten off scot-free and, moreover, inherited over 1.3 million dollars that should rightfully have been his. He only wants the fair shake of which he says he’s been deprived.
He got his aunt Marcia to call me and plead his case. She and Woody have written to each other almost every day, and she is a big believer that he has been screwed. She is the sister of Woody’s father, and most of her family supports Woody. Woody made a lot of mistakes that were not helpful to his case—but what teenager has not? I told Marsha the best I can do is to publicize his story and see what happens next.
I spent long, painful several weeks consolidating the information Woody and his aunt provided, and what I’ve learned follows.
Please pay close attention; I am going to rely on you to help me determine whether we should take on Woody’s case, and if you say so, I’ll write more about it and probably ask for your help. Yes, it happened a long time ago, there is no money, and it’s a long-shot, but I’m asking you not to think about that right now. Please just concentrate on whether Woody was deprived of a fair trial and deserves a fair shake—especially after he has already served so much time.
Lest you think that this is a lost cause, I will remind you that a judge just a few weeks ago ruled that a North Carolina man did not get a fair trial 28 years ago when he was convicted of murder as a teenager, and ordered him released from a prison in Wilmington NC. The man, 43-year-old Johnny Small, still faces charges in the 1988 murder case, and will remain under electronic house arrest. North Carolina Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Parsons ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict Small, and said it was up to prosecutors to decide whether to put him on trial again for the point-blank fatal shooting of Pam Dreher in her tropical fish store. “I don’t know if Mr. Small did this or not. Whoever did this is a monster,” Parsons said. “What I’m here to decide is, did he receive a fair trial? … It is more than abundantly clear that he did not.”
Woody says he was abused as a child. His mother Susie had wanted a daughter instead of a son, and used to dress Woody in girls’ clothes when he was young. She beat him and frequently tried to drown him in the bathtub (Woody claims this happened daily) for years, and Gordon (the father) just let it happen.
Woody went to school “all broken up”; the school knew he was being abused at home. However, he says, “I was not allowed to see any school doctors, [despite the fact that he was a “frequent flier” at the emergency room]. All my teachers testified that they knew I was abused.” Woody’s parents, through their threats, effectively blocked the school from taking the matter out of their hands. “I was beaten my entire life…but nobody cared,” Woody said.
Says his aunt Marcia: “Woody had the worst life of any child I’ve ever heard of or read about. He was mentally, physically, and sexually abused by his lunatic mother. She was crazy!! You can’t fathom the ways this kid was tortured by her. Any kid—person—has a breaking point when it comes to a situation like that.”
Yet Woody had decided that he’d had enough, and made plans to leave home after his father’s birthday, which was March 25. He secretly had packed a bag and made arrangements to run away with his girlfriend, Mel Bray, who he first took to a movie before his departure.
Unfortunately, he told his cousin Ted Fox of his plan, and the cousin started scheming.
The Set-Up by His Cousin, the Cousin’s Motive, and Murder
On March 26, 1996, two things happened. First, Ted Fox, the cousin (who had worked as the hired hand on Woody’s parents’ dairy farm) was fired. The cause of the firing had to do, according to Woody, with the fact that he and three other individuals “got caught with a load of stolen big bore rifles.” The only other involved person was Ted Fox, who was not arrested by the NY State Police because Ted was their “snitch.” The parents informed Ted that they were going to remove him from their will as an alternate beneficiary so he would no longer inherit the farm if Woody were to precede him in death (or, as it turned out, was held responsible for his parents’ deaths).
Second, Ted told Woody’s mother that Woody planned to run away the next day, that he was planning to jump bail on the gun charge. That evening, Woody’s parents, irate at this betrayal of their plans for him, went to the movie theater, waited for Woody to emerge after the movie, saw his bag in the car, and when Woody came out began a fight with their son in which Woody was assaulted in the parking lot. Several concerned citizens notified the police of this altercation, but the police did nothing.
After the parking lot assault, the whole family returned home to a dairy farm in Richfield Springs, a village southeast of Utica. Woody’s plan was to wait until his parents had gone to sleep, and then sneak out to meet up with his girlfriend, who was being brought to a meeting-place by a mutual friend. The only trouble is that Cousin Ted followed the family home, and when Woody should have been leaving, he began to coerce Woody into killing his parents. Ted provided the weapon, a handgun. Ted was, with Woody, a shooter. Ted helped Woody roll the body of Woody’s mother into a rug. The murders would not have happened were they not instigated by Ted.
After the murder, Ted provided a $10,000 pay-off to Woody (paid in two checks of which Woody’s family has photocopies) to plead guilty, keep Ted out of the narrative, and accept a life-without-parole plea (thus avoiding a trial). According to Woody, the pay-off was encouraged and facilitated by Woody’s defense attorney, Randall A. Scharf, who was appointed by the court and the attorney for his parents’ estate, Donald J. Snyder. The $10,000 was paid with funds from the parents’ estate.
Arrest in Texas
According to accounts by Woody Mower, and corroborated by paperwork, he was:
• Featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and arrested without any warrant on April 13, 1996 in Farmers Branch TX, a suburb of Dallas. Karl Chandler, an investigator for the New York State Police, traveled to Texas to oversee Woody’s extradition to New York;
• Woody was “beaten severely,” pepper sprayed, and tortured by police;
• He was not given medical attention;
• Woody was starved for 4 days;
• Was never read his Miranda rights.
Incarceration in New York
Woody Mower was transported back to New York state where he was charged as an adult with two counts of 2nd degree murder. He was later indicted for two counts of murder in the 1st degree. So at age 18 he faced the death penalty, which the prosecutors held over his head to pressure him into accepting a plea agreement instead of going to trial.
• Despite his requests, Woody was denied an attorney for his NY interrogation. In fact, George Aney (Herkimer NY) , the family attorney, was from Woody’s perspective denied all contact with Woody. Aney, though his memory is foggy about the events of 20 years ago, has confirmed this to me, but has also said he was reluctant to become involved in the case.
• Karl Chandler, an investigator with the New York State Police, was the main officer on the case. He oversaw major criminal investigations in Troop C, which covers seven upstate counties including the areas around Binghamton and Ithaca. He was forced to resign for evidence tampering, which Woody alleges was done in his case (and Chandler denied under oath). For example, no one was logged in or out of the crime scene log book, despite the fact that 30 troopers were in the crime scene and evidence was totally disrupted. Another officer has been recorded saying that evidence tampering against Woody did take place. Chandler also testified that he had not filed a warrant because he did not want a defense attorney present during questioning. Chandler is now retired in Florida.
• The court assigned as Woody’s defense attorney, Randel A. Scharf, a young lawyer with a rather checkered background. According to Woody, Scharf “had a real nasty drug addiction” at the time, and was smuggling cigarettes and drugs into the county jail. Scharf, says Woody, was later brought up before a disciplinary committee in Albany and nearly lost his license. Scharf has admitted all these facts to Marcia Mower and said that he was not experienced enough at the time to have adequately handled a murder trial. According to Marcia Mower, Scarf oversaw the sale of all of Woody’s possessions, and that even after 20 years, the Mower family cannot get Scharf to provide a receipt or accounting of the sale. The Mower family says that Scharf has done this same thing to other of his law clients.
• After the murder, Ted provided a $10,000 pay-off to Woody (paid in two checks of which Woody’s family has photocopies) to plead guilty, keep Ted out of the narrative, and accept a life-without-parole plea (thus avoiding a trial). The pay-off was encouraged and facilitated by Woody’s defense attorney, Randy Scharf, and paid from Woody’s parents’ estate.
• According to Woody Mower, the mayor of Cooperstown at the time, Jane Forbes Clark II, said that a trial would be bad publicity for Cooperstown, and that every effort should be made by the powers-that-be to avoid a trial. She is said to have told Scharf “no trial,” and he apparently complied. Clark is the chairman of the Baseball Hall of Fame and president of The Clark Foundation, founded in 1931, one of the largest charitable foundations in the United States.
• According to Woody Mower, Ted Fox was also a shooter. This was apparently common knowledge at the time. Marcia Mower told me she was in the milk house of the farm at 4:30 am the day after the murder, and she witnessed a state trooper who lived nearby who had Ted Fox up against the wall: “This is all your fault and I will see that you get your pay someday,” the trooper said to Ted. Afterwards, Marcia visited her brother-in-law who said: “Yes, Ted’s guilty. But we’ve been told we can’t touch him—he’s a witness for the state—he’s become a rat!”
• Marcia says that the day after the murder, Ted immediately began selling off assets of the farm—cows and machinery. Says Marcia: “That was totally illegal. But he was so greedy he was just lining his pocket in case he got kicked out by the family.”
• Now, 20 years later, one of the EMTs and “first responders” on the murder scene has come forward. He and his colleague arrived before the police even showed up, and they could sense that something was really wrong with Ted’s behavior.
Shortly after they arrived, Ted told the EMTs: “Gord’s [the father] in there; he’s dead—I checked.” The EMTs asked him if anyone else was in the house, and Ted answered “No.” So the EMTs told Ted they wanted to take a look around the house, and they did. When they came back to the bedroom where Gordon’s corpse was located and as the EMT was about to step into the room, Ted shouted: “Be careful. I don’t know if anyone else is in there.”
One of the EMTs then tripped over a rolled-up carpet that surrounded the body of Susan, the mother. Said the EMT to Marcia: “To get to your brother, you had to trip over her. So [Ted] claimed he’d checked your brother. He knew she was there.” But he lied.
Ted was obviously present during the murders. According to Woody, he actually shot Gordon, the father, and helped Woody roll up the mother’s body in the rug. Yet the police let Ted walk and he inherited an estate valued at $1.3 million 20 years ago. This is just plain wrong.
A lot of facts needed to be sorted out about this crime, but the police didn’t do it. There should have been a trial, but the authorities didn’t insist upon it. I’m not suggesting that Woody is blameless for his part in the crime, but it is an obvious miscarriage of justice that he was induced to accept sole responsibility for the deaths of his parents when the man most culpable for their murder was allowed to benefit from it and walk away free.
Based on Woody’s story, I would hate to be seeking any sort of justice in that part of New York, or in New York as a whole.
I think that the whole matter needs to be reopened. There needs to be the assurance that no amount of police corruption will be allowed to interfere with the truth. Bad publicity or not, the state of New York must assure that appropriate members of the Mower family inherit the parents’ estate, otherwise New York law is a meaningless sham.
Groove of the Day
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