A man on trial for shooting to death two off-duty DeKalb County police officers took the witness stand in his defense Monday, apologizing to the officers’ families but continuing to maintain he acted in self-defense.
William Woodard is charged with murder in the Jan.16, 2008 deaths of Officers Eric Barker and Ricky Bryant.
The 34-year-old defendant faces the death sentence for double counts of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a gun by a convicted felon. Woodard has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“I want to clear up and say sorry to the Barker family and the Bryant family,” Woodard told a DeKalb County jury on Tuesday as the victims’ families watched from the audience.
According to Channel 2 Action News coverage of the trial, Woodard expressed remorse to the families for the officers’ death, saying,“I can understand and feel their pain, but at the same time this matter happened in a self-defense matter.”
“I know DeKalb County will shoot you first and ask questions later,” he said.
Barker and Bryant died the early morning of Jan. 16, 2008, after they were shot at the Glenwood Gardens Apartments, where they worked in uniform as security guards. Barker, 33, died instantly and Bryant, 26, died at the hospital. Both were married and they each had four children.
Prosecutors last week presented testimony that the officers never attacked Woodard and that one officer opened fire with his own gun after he was shot at. They contended Woodard was afraid of going to jail because, as a convicted felon, he wasn’t supposed to be carrying a gun.
In his testimony Monday, Woodard denied all of that.
He said the two officers asked him for identification, and when he didn’t produce it, they attacked and started beating him. The defendant said that, fearing for his life, he opened fire with his gun, hitting and killing the officers.
“They jumping and beating me, one with a baton in his hand, sir,” Woodard said, describing the attack.
At that point, the defendant said, he pulled out his Glock 40 pistol and shot the officers.
Woodard said that he “never had any intentions to shoot the police,” but the officers “didn’t give me time” to surrender.
Prosecutors called Woodard’s account implausible.
DeKalb District Attorney Robert James asked Woodard why several witnesses testified they did not see the officers hit him, and that they saw him shooting first.
Woodard responded, “I never shot first. … I didn’t want to go to my own funeral,”
James asked Woodard that if the officers were beating him and shooting at him, how was he able to grab a gun and open fire without being hit? Woodard replied that he guessed it was by the grace of God he wasn’t shot.
— Staff writers Rhonda Cook and Marcus K. Garner contributed to this article.
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