HOUSTON - One of two men charged in the death of Jazmine Barnes, 7, appeared before a judge Thursday in a preliminary hearing for a murder charge.
Larry Woodruffe, 24, was charged with capital murder Tuesday, and according to prosecutors, Woodruffe was the gunman in the shooting.
Woodruffe's attorney, Lisa Andrews, filed two motions with the judge. One asks for a change of venue and the other asks for the district attorney's office to comply with a code of professionalism.
According to Andrews, the request for a change of venue comes because the case has been highly publicized and there could be a chance for prejudice of bias when it comes to jury selection.
The request for the district attorney's office to act more professionally comes as a result of comments from the president of the Houston Police Officers Union, Joe Gamaldi, who called Woodruffe a "dirtbag" and accused him of being a gang member.
Andrews also pointed out Gov. Greg Abbott's agreement with Gamaldi's statement as well as the fact that Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez spoke at Barnes' funeral while he is investigating the case.
Assistant District Attorney Tom Berg said Woodruffe's case isn't going to be one of bias and the motions were premature. Berg said there are too many narratives in the story and people may not know what to believe.
“Different people will remember different things," Berg said. "Some people will remember nothing about it. And, surprisingly, as we get jury panels in, some people won’t know about the case. They may be new to the area or whatnot by the time this case comes to trial. We expect to be able to draw a fair panel and get a fair jury for a fair trial.”
The judge granted the motion to follow a code of professionalism, and the request for a change of venue will be decided later on Thursday.
Andrews said Woodruffe told police he was not involved in the crime, and that the only statement citing him as part of the shooting was the one given by Eric Black.
"My experience is that people have a big motive to get themselves out of hot water," Andrews said. "It is also my experience, after twenty years of doing criminal law on both sides, that shooters don’t give up their gun. And that gun he led cops to was at his house, not my client's.”
Black is also facing a capital murder charge. Prosecutors said he admitted to driving the car used at the time of the shooting on Beltway 8 and Wallisville Road on Dec. 30.
Most recently, in 2017, Woodruffe was convicted of assaulting a family member and sentenced to two years in prison.
According to court records, less than a year later, Woodruffe was out on parole and charged with being a felon in possession of a gun.
Court records also show Woodruffe pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of being a felon in possession of a gun and was sentenced to nine months in jail.
When Woodruffe pleaded guilty in the weapons case, he was two months shy of completing his sentence on the assault charge, document show.
Maverick Ray, the attorney who represented Woodruffe in a February 2018 felony weapons charge, said he was surprised to hear about his former client.
"I was quite shocked," Ray said. "Like I said, Larry was a polite, respectful young man. He never showed any violent tendencies that I saw.”
Others, however, including Gamaldi, would disagree.
“When you see someone who’s a documented gang member, who’s a repeat offender, who’s shown to have violent tendencies, throw the book at him. That’s not the type of person you give a break to," Gamaldi said. “There is no reason Larry Woodruffe should've been free. He’s a complete dirtbag and now, as a result, this family has to suffer because he shot a 7-year-old girl in cold blood."
Gamaldi also tweeted a picture and questioned that plea deal and why Woodruffe was out in the streets.
"This is the dirtbag that killed Jazmine Barnes," Gamaldi tweeted. "Take a good look before people start framing him as some misunderstood youth, here he is flashing gang signs and below is his extensive criminal history at the ripe old age of 24. He has no place in our community."
Gov. Greg Abbott agreed in a tweet that read, “Jazmine Barnes - the innocent 7-year-old girl gunned down in Houston appears to have been killed by a gang member. There are too many gangs in Houston. We must expand the Texas Anti-Gang Task Force in Houston to clean our streets of this trash and restore safety."
Raymond Estrada, from the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, gave a response on Woodruffe’s release:
"In the case of Mr. Larry Woodruffe, his charge had been reduced to Attempted Possession of a Firearm for which he received a 9-month sentence in the Harris County Jail. Additionally, this was his first violation. With a scheduled discharge date from supervision of June 25, 2018; if revoked, his maximum discharge date would have extended approximately a couple of months. On April 25, 2018 a parole panel, after the careful consideration of all factors, voted to reinstate his supervision after serving the sentence imposed by the court."
Both Woodruffe and Black are being held at the Harris County Jail. Woodruffe is held on $100,000 bond and Black is held without bond.
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