(WSB video of Justin Wood being taken from courtroom post-sentencing)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
In King County Superior Court this past hour, Judge Julie Spector has just given 25-year-old West Seattle serial burglar Justin Wood a sentence of less than 4 years under the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative law, after emotional pleas from several of his victims – and after giving him her own furious rebuke.
We published multiple reports about Wood’s crimes earlier this year. He is the burglar arrested twice in one week (one scene, at 48th/Findlay, is in the photo at right), as reported in February, at which time we learned he had confessed to numerous burglaries, and was already facing charges in a case from last fall. In August, we reported on the plea bargain that led to this afternoon’s sentencing.
Judge Spector mentioned before the hearing that she had received letters from many other victims in the two months since Wood pleaded guilty to seven burglaries as well as attempted burglary and two gun thefts. He has no felony history; the state had recommended the “high-end” sentence of about 7 years.
“This has been my case from the very beginning,” said deputy prosecuting attorney Darren Thompson. “We’re in an interesting situation because the defendant confessed to 28 residential burglaries” among other things. “Mr. Wood actually came forward… he drove around with (a detective) and showed him all the victims’ houses … to be fair, some of them would never have been solved (otherwise).”
He added that the state also left it open for the defense lawyer to request a “prison-based DOSA,” – Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative – since “Mr. Wood obviously suffered from a drug addiction when these crimes were committed.” But, “these are crimes that cannot be fixed… (if he) served the 44 months (that such a sentence would involve), it would not be enough.”
And that was clear, once the victims in the courtroom came forward to tell their stories, mostly through tears and/or anger.
The first victim to speak to the judge said he had a message directly for the criminal: “You should know that you violated my life in a very personal way. … My life has changed since the day you broke into my family’s home and you stole part of our lives. You didn’t just steal money and objects but part of our lives … Among the items … were a couple that really hurt … You stole my wedding ring. That can never be replaced. … not with the same one that I put on my finger the day I got married.” The man struggled with tears. “You stole $80 from my 7-year-old son’s wallet. Can you imagine …”
He broke down again and apologized for that to Judge Spector, who told him not to apologize. So he continued:
“Can you imagine my son, one of the happiest kids on earth … he worked really hard to save that money and was so proud … can you imagine how upset he was when I had to tell him someone broke into our house and took his money.”
Others in the courtroom were audibly crying by that point.
“An innocent boy like that who only knows the good of the world so far shouldn’t have to be introduced” that soon to its darker side. He went on: “… My family and I didn’t deserve to be violated by you. … I never used to feel unsafe in my own home,” but now he does, because “if you did, who else would? … Now I’m afraid to leave anything valuable in my house when I leave … even when I go to the corner for a few minutes. … I was only gone for one hour when you broke into my house. … What you did was shameful and had a terrible effect on me and my family.”
Next, another victim, a woman who began with the story of how he “pilfe(red) my 10-year-old daughter’s room” at the start of the burglary and rampaged through the house. “You were indiscriminate about what you took …. What you got away with is different from what you took … our sense of security … family jewelry that had been handed down for generations … my wedding ring, a symbol of 17 years of marriage … You took away a sense of optimism … and replaced it with suspicion and anger.” He even stole her daughter’s two baby teeth “that she had been saving for the Tooth Fairy … those items held no value for you but were priceless for me … (and they) probably ended up on the floor of a car or at the bottom of a trash bin.” She said she came to court “to look you in the eye … I wanted to put a face on the crime you committed against me and my family … I wanted you to see me, and understand (how your crimes affected) real people.”
The third victim to speak, another woman, cried from the start. “Despite the fact he cooperated with police once finally caught that does not (lessen) the pain and suffering … Many items are replaceable with insurance money, but many will never be replaced, like my mother’s ring that I will never be able to pass on to my daughter. He took them for money … (and) for someone to walk into a baby’s room and take a silver piggy bank full of coins …” She spoke between tears about how she and neighbors have security systems now but that is no replacement for a sense of security gone forever and called him “a threat to the West Seattle community” who needs the toughest sentence possible.
Fourth victim to speak, a man who also is a father, a 12- and 9-year-old. “My daughter came home … and found that her room was totally trashed …” His wife’s jewelry box was looted, including handed-down family heirlooms; cash was taken that his daughter had received for her birthday the day before. “The reason I’m up here is because he freaked my family out to the point where my children slept in our room for 2 months. … I wish I would have been there because he wouldn’t be here today.”
Others in the courtroom continued to sob intermittently.
“He came right into my house. Lifted up the window and came right into my house. To this day, when my kids go (to bed) … ‘Are all the doors locked, Dad? Are all the windows locked, Dad?’ My son can’t even go into the laundry room to look for his uniform because he doesn’t feel safe … I just want Justin Wood to know I grew up with nothing in my life, I grew up in the projects, I saw (lots of crime), I told myself I wasn’t going to be like that … I want him to get help. … He needs help .. and when he gets out of jail, he needs to become a better person. Can he imagine someone getting into his house, and freaking his kids out? He needs to know what we feel like.” To judge and lawyers: “It’s up to you guys, what happens to Justin Wood … I hope when he’s in jail, he can bring good into his life …”
No one else wished to speak. So next came Wood’s lawyer. She said he knows no restitution will make up for what he did. “He truly confessed to many crimes that would never … 1 or 2 of them had forensic evidence. He pleaded (guilty) with an earnest desire to take some responsibility.”
She said Wood had fallen “low” because of heroin addiction, and has already been in jail for 238 days, his longest spell of sobriety. She contended he is eligible for prison DOSA “and is going to go to prison regardless, for these crimes.” The sentence, ultimately, is longer than a regular prison sentence would be, she said, adding that he is amenable to treatment and has just never been able to get it in a controlled environment for a sustained period of time.
Wood’s parents came up to the bench. His father said his son had had trouble for a long time. His mother said, “We think this is the chance he needs to save his life …” Crying, she said, “We never thought his life would go this way.” She also said he had failed another treatment program – in her view, because “he wasn’t ready.”
Wood himself wrote a letter, it was noted, but also was offered the chance to say something. He read the short letter without emotion, facing the courtroom. “I offer no excuses for my actions …” but blamed his addiction, saying he deals with remorse and shame daily … “What is important to me is remaining sober … maybe my victims will regain a sense of peace … a sense I violated …”
Judge Spector then spoke to the court and to Wood, controlled fury rising slowly with every word: “Every Friday, judges sentence people just like you… the collateral consequences of drug addiction are in my court every Friday. The victims’ feelings of violation are an outrage …”
She criticized Wood for racing through his letter, not seeming to be sincere about what he had said. “You could not get through (the letter) more quickly … You have committed more crimes in a spree than most have in a lifetime. You’ve been in and out of treatment … Recovery involves relapse. When you relapsed, though, you didn’t just become a greater heroin addict, you took all these people’s sense of security and privacy… and dashed it so you could stick this vile poison into your life.”
She noted that many in his shoes come from troubled backgrounds but he came from an intact home, both parents still alive … And then she dropped the personal bomb: “You are what I call a mid-aged drug addict .. I hope this scares you straight: I had a brother just like you, a heroin addict just like you, in and out of treatment 8 times .. You know where he is now?”
She paused, then:
“Dead. He died of an overdose at age 34. He was considered an old junkie.”
She quoted the one victim who had said he hopes Wood finds the help he needs … “Every time you stick this poison in your arm, I’ve got ten victims … and for every 10, there’s 100 behind that … and there are 53 judges …”
She then said that if she gave him the maximum basic prison term, there would be no treatment – but if she gave him the prison-based DOSA, and he screwed up, he would do the maximum. “And that should scare you.”
The fury in her voice calmed a bit as she explained she would give him the sentence with treatment in prison, “but if you screw up, you will be an old, dry junkie when you come out.”
So, with that, Wood was given a 44 3/4-month sentence – three years, 8 3/4 months – with drug treatment to begin immediately in prison – and 44 3/4 months of community custody (probation) to follow. Judge Spector explained it to the gallery, “I am doing this because he needs the treatment, he needs the help, and in our state if you don’t commit a violent crime … (you are eligible for this).” She concluded, “It’s the only way I know how to safeguard our community.”