It’s not been a week for Flagler County juries too inclined to deliberate. On Wednesday, a jury took 18 minutes to find a man guilty of 24 count of sex crimes that’ll send him to prison for life. This afternoon, a jury of five women and a man took 45 minutes to find 31-year-old George Wood III of Palm Coast guilty of escape and three other crimes that expose him to 15 to 30 years in prison when he’s sentenced on Jan. 30.
The sentence will be severe because Wood is a convicted felon 10 times over. Eleven, counting today. Should the judge tack on a “habitual felon” aggravator to his coming sentence, as the prosecution is asking, what would otherwise have been a 15-year term could double to 30. And he has yet to face two more trials: one in January on an illegal firearm possession and one later next year on an armed burglary allegedly committed during the Hurricane Matthew emergency in Palm Coast. If he’s found guilty of that charge, his life as a free man, such as it’s been–he’s spent most of his adult life in prison or jail–is over: he faces life in prison.
But today’s jury was not aware of his history nor of his coming trials, only of the incident of the night of January 31 at a Bunnell Circle K on State Road 100.
That night Wood walked away from a cop who wanted to talk to him in the parking lot of the convenience store. Flagler County Sheriff’s deputy Diego Gonzalez, just past his rookie year at that point, had pulled up on word of a disturbance there. “What do I need to talk to you for?” Wood told him. Wood then threw something into a van, possibly the gun that’ll be the subject of his next trial, jumped head-first into that vehicle and told the woman at the wheel to take off. Scared, she hesitated. Wood himself took command but threw the car in reverse, jumped a curb, struck a pole, got Tased and finally was detentained in back of Gonzalez’s patrol car.
Wood may have had his own reason not to speak to a cop. It’s not a crime not to do so, or even to walk away from one absent the commission of a crime.
“The dynamics of this incident changed the moment Mr. Wood threw something into the vehicle and jumped head first into the van,” Assistant State Prosecutor Mark Lewis told the jury.
Not so, said Regina Nunnally, Wood’s public defender. “In Mr. Wood’s mind the situation is bullshit,” she said, using Wood’s own description of the situation. “In other words he’s saying I didn’t do anything wrong for them to come at me. So was he avoiding a lawful confinement? I would say no, because he was unlawfully confined, because they arrested him for something he had the right to walk away from.”
Nunnally tried to make much of that occasionally abused gray line between lawful arrest and overzealous policing. Cops have been known to flash badges and handcuffs and scream “stop resisting” over aggrieved egos. But she didn’t have much to work with: this was not just a case of a man legally exercising his rights, simply walking away and refusing to speak to an officer in a civil encounter and somehow deciding to slip from a vaguely defined detention.
Wood after his arrest managed to bust the patrol vehicle’s cage even though he was handcuffed and ran, taunting the arresting officer along the way (“He yells ‘Gonzo’ and I see him running down North Anderson,” Gonzalez said on the stand) triggering a foot and air chase. He somehow climbed up a tree two blocks away, apparently in the backyard of someone he knew, and hid out until a helicopter pilot’s infrared sensor picked him out in the night and led Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies and a police dog to the foot of his tree: part of the evidence the jury saw today was footage from the helicopter’s infrared camera scanning Bunnell’s blocks and zeroing in on the white body heat of a mass huddled in a tree on East Howe Street.
From there Wood tumbled, was arrested and, according to him, injured in the process. “They beat the fuck out of me,” he told a woman in a phone call from jail after she’d asked about the blood-soaked sheets she’d seen at the hospital, where he was taken after his arrest.
Video clip of Air One’s infrared scan of Howe Street as it led ground deputies to George Wood, the white silhouette within the trees.
He’d told the same woman that if things had gone his way, if a woman who didn’t seem to know what to do hadn’t been at the wheel of the car he jumped into, he’d have taken off and been far away from the scene, ostensibly free and clear. And–in one of three recorded phone calls from the jail–he said he should’ve never jumped out of the cop car to start with.
Nevertheless Nunnally argued that he had nothing to escape from. Cops had no reason to detain or arrest him in the first place that night at the convenience store, she said. He had just bought a beer in the convenience store and walked away from a cop asking to talk with him. There’d been no crime, no evidence of a crime, just a verbal argument earlier that had by then ended. Resisting arrest is often a bogus charge when slapped on an individual by itself–a red flag, in defense attorneys’ view, that nothing criminal had taken place or warranted arrest other than interaction between an individual and a cop which, like a self-fulfilling prophesy, somehow leads to arrest.
“I need to talk to you, I need to talk to you. ‘Bout what? ‘Bout what?” Nunnally yelled, asking the question Gonzalez had asked Wood. Nunnally apologized to the jury for yelling, explaining that she’s a preacher’s kid. “When an officer asks you a question and you don’t answer the question, it can be seen that the person is disrespectful, or that the person is hiding something, or as one potential juror said, being an asshole.”
The escape, Nunnally argued, was the fruit of a wrongful arrest, so that while Wood may have committed a mischief in smashing his way out of the deputy’s car (she conceded that he did, causing $30 in damages), he should not have been placed there in the first place.
It was a valid argument to make in Wood’s defense, as even Circuit Judge Dennis Craig agreed today, and she delivered it with her usual tone of incredulity and podium-banging indignation at a “totality of circumstances” she said gave Gonzalez no reason to be suspicious of Wood or to go after him.
But the indignation was more contrived than justified by evidence she presented, let alone evidence the prosecution presented: Nunnally’s argument did not resonate with Gonzalez’s long testimony, when the deputy, on the stand, maintained an unwaveringly neutral composure that gave no hint of chippy shoulders. Nunnally’s argument weakened further when the likeliest reason for Wood running from cops came into play: he had a warrant out for his arrest from Louisiana.
So for all of Nunnally’s impassioned defense, the context was jarringly off key: Wood was not the man to make these points for, Gonzalez did not have the demeanor of the goon she was making him out to be, and the jury was seeing through the contrivance. Wood was running not because he had a keen sense of his civil rights but because he did not want to be arrested again. He wanted to avoid returning to jail. “Is there really any other reason?” Lewis asked the jury wryly.
And there was another reason that likely impelled him to run: that alleged armed burglary three months earlier, charges he’d face while in jail in March. But the jury could not hear anything about that.
Gonzalez was not aware of the warrant out of Louisiana until Wood was in the back of his patrol car and he ran Wood’s name through the usual law enforcement databases to check his background. But by then, even if Gonzalez had no reason to be suspicious of Wood at the initial point of contact, he soon would as Wood dove into the van: “All my senses are going off,” Gonzalez said on the stand.
Other than a reporter, Gonzalez, who’d spent the day either on the stand or in the audience, was the only person in the audience when the verdict was read. (The jury had gone into deliberations at 3:45 p.m. It was done at 4:30 p.m., and dismissed just before 5, its weekend intact.) Wood looked straight ahead when the clerk read the first two guilty verdicts, then his head shifted, looking to the ceiling, the way younger people do sometimes when they’re trying to beat back tears, though no tears were evident after he sat down and briefly spoke with Nunnally.
Gonzalez has been at the county jail since the night of his arrest in January on a now-combined $185,500 bond, though his bond in the present case was revoked. He is not likely to see freedom again.
Gonzalez–the September Employee of the Month at the Sheriff’s Office for a heroic effort in helping a family of four out of a car that had crashed into a waterlogged ditch after Hurricane Irma–termed himself relieved by the verdict. He was in uniform, an hour from getting on the road for a 12-hour, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift, assuming his supervisors did not give him the night off.
Another POS off the streets.
Trailer Bob says
Why does the justice system allow the criminals to continue to walk the streets after so many arrests? We provide too many chances to these lowlifes and the rest of us have to suffer while they are loose in society. Good Job by the officer and the jury.
Chris A Pickett says
CONGRATS again to FCSO
This public defender doesn’t appear to be too interested…..do people who have public defenders really get any representation? I never hear of a public defender defending a accused person and getting a case dismissed or dropped. It’s pretty scary when people can’t afford legal fees and hire their own attorney. The whole process seems flawed and a legal game for attorney’s to fill their pockets.
You are very wrong about the Public Defender’s office. Every attorney there cares about their cases and works extremely hard. *I’m not an attorney.
Do you “Anonymous” what to pay for a top notch Lawyer?He’s lucky he gets a public defender.Jail and prisons basically have to keep them moving to avoid overcrowding.Only the true scumbags get extended stay.
I’m not condoning his actions, but if you are able to break out of a police car while handcuffed after getting tasered and manhandled, then you should be awarded a medal after being booked into the county jail. That is an impressive feat of endurance,
This is a good old southern BBQ! George had been detoxing at my home and just gotten well enough to go to the store. How could he have been doing bad stuff when he was puking at my house through hurricane Matthew??? It was my gun, my van and his not so bright girlfriend driving since George was still not medicated for his mental illness. The gun was found where I kept it. He couldn’t have threw it in the van and it be secured… He was running to my daughters house for safety as he was in fight or flight mode. We had went to get his birth certificate earlier that day so he could get county assistance to see a psychiatrist for his meds. He was turning his life around for his kids. When he showed up on my doorstep I called both the sheriff and Louisiana And notified them he was with me, detoxing, they called to speak to him when he couldn’t speak so the officer said he would call back next week. A officer came out and told us that the minute he walked off the property he was going to get him for anything and throw away the key. Further, he said that he has been chasing George for years and it was his mission to get him. My mother and I were stunned into silence. Looks like he (officer) did what he said he would do… I was briefly interviewed by the sheriff’s department at ten pm about 5 days later. I wrote the attorneys and spoke to the judge about all of this. The result was as I hoped to remove the false charges and place him in mental health. He is doing much better now that he has his meds. He has two children who do not need to read lies about their father. Apparently there is no Justice in Palm Coast! Half of all this they have blown our tax money on proving, is false. George panicked and now is being railroaded for life just to help one cops ego feel better. The people “telling on him” are mostly blaming him for things they did as he didn’t leave my house to do it all.!! This is very, very sad. Both the Flagler news, sheriff’s department and court should be ashamed of themselves. Karma, God or both will hold all accountable one day. I’m ashamed of my town! George was doing so well. He was respectful to my mother and I, he helped with all lifting and such with mom. Did anything around the house we asked and had earned my trust to take my van to the store. George’s mistake was trying to help his friend at the store… This is an unjust travesty…I was never even called to go to court. I had to find out the original dates and go myself. We were told it was over and of course not told about the new dates. I wonder why… Perhaps because I know more about it than anyone and could set the record straight?!
I saw on Vice News, I think, that the County gets most of their budget from the number of people they keep. So it is in their fiscal financial best interest to keep people for extended days, months, years… Plus they charge them for laundry and basically everything they need to live. It’s a terrible financial toll on the families as well. The inmates are more likely to get in altercations due to this, statistically speaking.
HE IS AN AWESOME MAN AND MY FIANCE HE HAS MADE MISTAKES IN THE PAST BUT SO HAS EVERYONE AND PEOPLE FOR GET THAT PEOPLE THAT MAKE MISTAKES DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE AND HE HAS A FAMILY AND PEOPLE WHO LOVE AND CARE ABOUT HIM VERY MUCH WHO ARE REALLY REALLY STRUGGLING RIGHT NOW AND HURTING WITH HIM BEING GONE . BEFORE EVERYONE IS SO QUICK TO JUDGE MAYBE YOU SHOULD TAKE A LOOK IN TO YOUR PAST AND PRIOR MISTAKES BEFORE YOU JUDGE ANYONE ELSE
Jennifer Wood says
Jenn seriously we are getting married yall are divorced you have moved on you have a new man you live with and that you love so just respect the fact George loves me and is very happy we are getting married George is very very very well taken care of I’m doing great for us right now and done what I’ve had to do to improve in life he has everything he wants and needs and never goes without and just so you know George has this whole news article including all the comments I printed them out and sent them to his so he know what I commented as well that your trying to laugh at he said he doesn’t care I could tell the whole world we were getting married because he loves me and it doesn’t matter if you know , or my family , or anyone else because no matter how anyone feels its our decision . And like I said you moved on you are divorced from George and you have a man and are in a relationship that your happy in and George loves his babies more than life itself and I respect the fact you will always be the mother of his children and a friend but I am his wife now and as to grown woman we have to have some mutual respect we don’t have to like each but do have to respect each other because I will be with George for the rest of our lives we are not kids Jenn , so like I said just respect the decision we have made you have moved on and I’m in no way or form trying to be disrespectful just being blunt because we are engaged and will be married soon so that’s something you can choose to accept or not but its happening . Your happy with your man and were happy and that’s all that matters honestly.