After two hours of listening to grieving family members and friends talk about the death of Bradley Eaton, East Valley Superior Court Judge Connie Contes on Friday sentenced Joseph Woodard, 21, a former Mountain Pointe High School student, to life in prison for the first-degree murder of Eaton, who was 20 at the time.
Police say that Woodard and Sergio Acosta, then 15, decided to skip school on Aug. 23, 2006, and wanted to smoke marijuana. They knew of a home in Chandler where Taylor Zavacky sold marijuana and they got Sergio’s older brother, Juan, then 20, and planned the home invasion.
Deputy County Attorney Hilary Weinberg called it a “Botched, poorly executed home invasion,” where Woodard shot Eaton, a roommate in the house, and Juan Acosta left his gun behind while Sergio Acosta, driving the getaway car, missed the initial pick-up point for the duo.
It took the jury just two hours to find Woodard guilty after a four-week trial.
The sentence means that Woodard will be 46 before he can apply for parole.
“I’m fine with (the sentence),” Eaton’s mother, Cyndy Eaton, said while leaving the courthouse on Friday. “There’s a part of me that thinks he’ll never get out.”
Before Contes sentenced Woodard on Oct. 16 he spoke for the first time in court, saying he knows he “caused a lot of hurt.”
“The (Eaton) family thinks I don’t show remorse, I don’t know how. I can’t redo what’s been done,” Woodard continued. “I know how much my family has suffered. I suffer everyday. Everyday I’m in pain. I don’t know if that helps them feel better.”
Despite the quick verdict, jurors said it was a tough case and not at all like the murder trials depicted on television.
The jury of five women and seven men had to consider the honesty of witnesses, and that was tough, they said.
Many friends of Woodard and the Acosta brothers initially lied to police. Later, when many of those same people were called as witnesses, jurors said they didn’t know what to think.
The star witness for the prosecution, Jesse Flores, a felon with a long record who Woodard talked to in jail and who worked with police, was one of the least credible witnesses, according to jurors.
But it was Woodard telling Flores where the murder weapon was hidden that helped make the case.
Several times Chandler police searched for the gun in a wash near the 12400 block of South 38th Street, where Woodard lived with his parents. But it wasn’t until Woodard had drawn his second map to the site, and given it to Flores, who gave it to police, that with the help of an amateur metal detector club the weapon was found in 2007.
But despite Flores’ lack of credibility, jurors said there was plenty of other evidence and testimony for a conviction.
Woodard now joins Sergio Acosta in the prison system. The youngest Acosta was previously sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the murder of Eaton, after he agreed to a second-degree murder plea in return for testifying against Woodard. Police are still searching for Juan Acosta, who is believed to be hiding in Mexico.
Woodard still faces one additional charge, conspiracy to commit murder, because police say he tried to have two witnesses in the case killed because he thought they had “snitched” on him. A hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. Oct. 30 on the conspiracy charge.
Woodard was also convicted in Yavapai County of stealing the murder weapon used to kill Eaton from a friend of his family, and is awaiting sentencing on that conviction.