A man paralyzed and hooked up to a ventilator after he was shot in the face and neck could only communicate by blinking his eyes, but those blinks helped lead to what could end up as life in prison for the man convicted of murdering him.
Ricardo Woods, 35, was sentenced Thursday to 36 years to life in prison for the murder of David Chandler and for felonious assaults and weapons charges. The murder trial drew national attention when the judge allowed jurors to see a police interview of Chandler two weeks before his death during which he blinked in response to questions about who shot him.
Woods was convicted last month of murder and felonious assault charges after jurors watched the interview which prosecutors say shows Chandler blinked his eyes three times for "yes" to identify a photo of Woods as the man who shot him. Chandler was shot while sitting in a car on Oct, 28, 2010, and left paralyzed from the neck down,
The defense tried to block the video, saying Chandler's blinks were inconsistent and unreliable.
Woods, who insists he is innocent, stood stoically before a Hamilton County judge on Thursday and showed no visible emotion as she sentenced him. Judge Beth Myers said the sentence she gave him was "necessary to protect the public and punish Mr. Woods."
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 37 years to life, the maximum, while the defense had asked the judge for the minimum, 18 years to life.
Assistant county Prosecutor David Prem told the judge prior to sentencing that Woods' previous criminal history, including prison terms for attempting to kill someone and drug trafficking, should be taken into account.
"He is a dangerous and violent offender," Prem said, adding that it was time for the Chandler family and the state of Ohio to get justice.
Defense attorney Kory Jackson told the judge that Woods has "always maintained that he is not guilty and still maintains that today."
Woods nodded yes when the judge said she understood that he planned to appeal.
Jackson stressed again after court that Woods has always insisted he is innocent, even when he was offered a deal prior to the trial requiring him to plead guilty in exchange for a five-year sentence.
"He said that he was innocent and that `I'm absolutely not going to take a deal,"' Jackson said.
No members of Chandler's family spoke at Thursday's hearing, but the victim's mother said afterward that she was pleased with the sentence.
"I'm happy my son got his day in court," Jean Bradford said.
Prem said that Chandler "hopefully will never get out of prison."
"Mr. Woods deserved every day of the 36-to-life sentence he received," Prem said.
Jackson says he expects the video interview to play a role in Woods' appeal.
A doctor who treated Chandler testified during the trial that Chandler was able to communicate clearly. But the defense argued that Chandler's condition and drugs used to treat him could have hindered his ability to understand and respond during the police interview.
A jailhouse informant testified that Woods told him he shot at Chandler because he caught him buying drugs from someone else while still owing Woods money for drugs. But the defense argued that the informant, who faced armed robbery charges, was trying to get a lighter sentence for himself.
Legal experts say such cases — where prosecutors attempt to show a defendant was identified by a gesture — are unusual. Dying identifications relying on gestures rather than words are often not used in trials because of concern over reliability or differing interpretations. But some have been used in murder cases around the country that have resulted in convictions.