Thomas Woodel was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a double murder. According to court documents Thomas Woodel would murder 79-year-old Clifford Moody and his 74-year-old wife Bernice Moody. During his statement Woodel would confess to stabbing Bernice Moody to death and when her husband Clifford Moody came home he would stab the man to death. Thomas Woodel was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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Clifford Moody, who was seventy-nine years old, and his seventy-four year old wife, Bernice, lived in a mobile home trailer on lot 533 at Outdoor Resorts of America in Polk County. The Moodys owned another trailer on adjoining lot 532, which they sometimes rented. Bernice was seen by the newspaper delivery man cleaning lot 532 about 4:30 to 4:45 a.m. on December 31, 1996. Clifford was last seen by a security person at the Outdoor Resorts Laundromat at about 5:30 a.m. The Moodys were preparing to show the mobile home for rental that day.
The Moodys were found dead a little after 1 p.m. on December 31, 1996. Clifford was found lying on his back in the dining room area of the trailer on lot 532. His underwear and pants had been pulled down to below his knees. His eyeglasses lay approximately two feet from his head. Dr. Alexander Melamud, the medical examiner, testified that Clifford received a total of eight stab wounds, causing more internal than external bleeding, and that he died as a result of these stab wounds close in time to his wife’s death.
Bernice was found in the same trailer with multiple stab wounds. She lay dead on a bed in the back of the trailer and was nude except for one sock. A nightgown and female underwear with a knot tied in it lay on the floor next to the bed. Additionally, pieces of a porcelain toilet tank lid were found underneath her. Dr. Melamud testified that Bernice incurred a total of fifty-six cut or stab wounds, many of which on her right arm he opined to be defensive. Her jugular vein had been slit. Additionally, she had received significant blunt trauma injuries to her head, and her nasal bones were fractured. Dr. Melamud testified that Bernice died as a result of her injuries sometime in the early morning hours of December 31, 1996. No semen was detected on Bernice.
With the permission and assistance of Outdoor Resorts, detectives searched the park’s dumpsters the morning of January 3, 1997. The dumpsters had not been emptied since prior to December 31, 1996. During the search, detectives found three garbage bags containing pieces of a porcelain toilet tank lid, a wallet containing Clifford’s identification and credit cards, keys with a tag stating “Cliff’s keys,” glasses, bloody socks, paperwork with the address of lot 301, and paperwork bearing the names of the defendant and his son, Christopher Woodel.
That afternoon, detectives went to lot 301. Woodel lived there with his long-time girlfriend, Christina Stogner, and his sister, Bobbi Woodel. Woodel and his sister signed consent forms to have their trailer searched. Stogner was out of town at that time. Also present that day at lot 301 was Gayle Woodel. Although not known at that time, it would later be discovered that Gayle married Woodel in 1989, and they had a son together, Christopher. Gayle and Woodel separated in 1992 but never divorced. In 1996, Gayle and Christopher lived in North Carolina while Woodel lived in Florida. However, Gayle had just come to Florida from North Carolina so that Christopher could spend some time with Woodel. Gayle, Christopher, and two of Gayle’s friends were staying at Woodel’s trailer.
While some detectives searched the premises, Woodel agreed to be questioned by other detectives. As Woodel left with the detectives, Woodel went over to Gayle and whispered for her to get rid of the knife Woodel had hidden. Gayle told Woodel’s landlady and friend about the content of the communication. Gayle later told deputies as well.
The detectives gave Woodel Miranda warnings, and he consented to talk with them. He initially told the detectives that he had been home asleep at the time of the murders. After further questioning, Woodel began to write out a statement. He then stopped and confessed to killing the Moodys, whom he said he had never met. The detectives then tape-recorded Woodel’s confession. In this taped confession played for the jury, Woodel admitted to drinking with others that evening after work in the lot next to the Pizza Hut where he worked. Afterwards, Woodel walked to Outdoor Resorts, a little over a mile from the Pizza Hut. Woodel admitted to entering the Moody’s rental trailer early in the morning after seeing Bernice through the window. He said he went in to ask for the time. According to Woodel, Bernice was alone in the trailer. Upon seeing him, she came at him with a knife, over which Woodel soon gained control. He then proceeded to stab her many times and hit her over the head with a porcelain toilet tank lid one to three times. The toilet lid shattered.
Clifford was last seen doing laundry at the Laundromat by security guard Elmer Schultz between 5:30 and 5:40 a.m. In his confession, Woodel said that he was leaving the trailer when Clifford came inside. Woodel then stabbed Clifford. As Clifford lay on the floor, Woodel picked up a bucket and placed pieces of the shattered toilet tank lid in it. He also placed the knife along with several other items in the bucket. Woodel said that after stabbing Clifford, he took Clifford’s wallet.
Woodel also said in his confession that he threw some items into a canal in the mobile home park, threw some items away in his garbage, and hid the knife behind a dresser. Deputies would later find pieces of the toilet tank lid and Bernice’s eyeglasses in the canal, and a knife in Woodel’s room wedged between a wall and the dresser.
Jury selection began on November 9, 1998. The jury began deliberations on Thursday, December 3, and returned its verdict on Friday, December 4. The penalty phase occurred on Monday, December 7. Seventeen individuals testified, including the medical examiner, several Moody family members and friends, several Woodel family members and friends, and Dr. Henry Dee, on behalf of Woodel. After hearing this testimony, the jury recommended death by a vote of nine to three for Clifford’s murder and by a twelve-to-zero vote for Bernice’s murder.
The trial court followed the jury’s recommendations and sentenced Woodel to death for both murder counts. The trial court found the same aggravators and mitigators for both murders. In aggravation, the trial court found that: (1) the defendant had previously been convicted of another capital offense; 1 (2) the killings were perpetrated while the defendant was engaged in a burglary; 2 (3) the killings were especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel (HAC); 3 and (4) the victims were particularly vulnerable due to advanced age or disability.4 The trial court specifically rejected that Clifford’s murder occurred as a result of Woodel’s effort to escape and avoid being arrested.5 The trial court found the statutory mitigator that Woodel had no significant history of criminal activity.6 The trial court also found seven nonstatutory mitigators: (1) Woodel was physically abused as a child; (2) he was neglected by his mother; (3) there was instability in his residences as a child; (4) both of Woodel’s parents were deaf and mute; (5) use of alcohol and drugs; (6) Woodel was willing to meet with the victim’s family prior to trial; and (7) he was willing to be tested for a possible bone marrow donation for his daughter, who had leukemia. The trial court specifically rejected a finding that Woodel was so intoxicated that he could not form the intent to kill.