116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ANAMOSA — Avoiding a murder trial, an Anamosa State Penitentiary inmate admitted Friday to bludgeoning correctional Officer Robert McFarland and prison nurse Lorena Schulte with a hammer during a failed prison escape last spring.
Inmate Thomas Woodard, 34, admitted that he intentionally struck McFarland, 46, of Ely, at least twice to the back of his head and struck Schulte, 50, of Cedar Rapids, at least twice to her face and head.
Woodard wouldn’t exactly admit he had an intent to kill Schulte. He said his intention when attacking Schulte was to try to keep her from calling for help.
However, Assistant Iowa Attorney General Scott Brown said Woodard admitted to the elements of first-degree murder — so that constitutes the intent to kill.
Woodard, who was serving time at Anamosa for robbery, pleaded guilty to all the charges against him: two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder and second-degree kidnapping. He faces two life sentences without parole and up to 50 years on the other two. His only condition for pleading to the charges was that he be sent to a Nebraska prison to serve his terms.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Fae Hoover went over the agreement and accepted the four guilty pleas.
After the plea, Brown said Woodard would have been sent out of state to serve his time anyway since he killed Iowa prison workers. Woodard asked to go to Nebraska and that state agreed to take him, the prosecutor said.
Brown said it’s “rare” for defendant charged with first-degree murder to plead straight up to the charge. He said this was the first time he had seen it happen.
“We wouldn’t have done it without the support of the families,” Brown added. He thought they probably felt relief of avoiding a trial, which is stressful for victims’ families.
Family members and co-workers of McFarland, Schulte and prison dental assistant Lorie Mathes — who was kidnapped during the incident — were present during the plea.
The families started tearing up when hearing the details of the injuries. Co-workers wore “Stronger Together” T-shirts in a show of support for the victims. The families declined to comment to reporters after sentencing.
Schulte was born in San Salvador, El Salvador, and was adopted and brought to the United States in 1982, according to her obituary. She graduated from the former Regis High School and received degrees in criminal justice and nursing from Kirkwood Community College before going to work as a nurse at the prison in 2007.
The assault started about 10 a.m. March 23 when Woodard and another inmate also serving time for robbery, Michael Dutcher, went to the prison infirmary under the pretense of fixing something, Rick Rahn, an Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent in charge, previously has said.
During the plea, Woodard admitted to having specific intent or to encouraging or directing Dutcher to kidnap and confine Mathes in a break room where the inmates had tried to break out a window to make an escape.
A complaint stated Mathes was “grabbed by Dutcher with Woodard present.” Mathes was told “she would be next if she did not cooperate.”
Woodard admitted that Dutcher had a hammer when he confined Mathes. Woodard then said he wanted her to be quiet so the prison alarms wouldn’t be activated.
He also admitted to striking another inmate, McKinley Roby, who had tried to help the prison workers, with a hammer when Roby came into the break room.
Woodard said Roby was a “pedophile and snitch” and admitted he intended to cause his death. He also said he would have hit Roby again.
The inmates had access to hammers and a metal grinder because they had checked them out from the prison maintenance area, investigators said. They were being supervised by McFarland.
At some point, they rushed into the employee break room off the infirmary and used the hammers to break the glass on a window, the DCI’s Rahn said. They also used the grinder on the metal bars on the windows but failed to even come close to severing them.
Woodard asked Friday for an expedited sentencing. One of his lawyers, Linn County Chief Public Defender Brian Sissel, said the defense would waive preparing a presentencing report in order to get an earlier sentencing date.
Brown said Judge Hoover mentioned Aug. 20 as a possible sentencing date but he doubts it will happen that quickly. He said it’s more likely to be in the next month or so.
Dutcher, accused of the same charges, has asked for a non-jury trial, which hasn’t been scheduled yet. Dutcher plans to claim self-defense or that he acted in defense of others.
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