Florida man sent back to prison after state disputes early release

Man returned to prison after state disputes early release

ORLANDO, Fla. — A Florida man was first sentenced to a mandatory 20 years in prison after he shot someone in the foot, but after the law changed nearly 12 years later, he appealed his conviction and a judge decided to free him.

The man went home to his family and turned his life around.

Then, 18 months later, because the state didn't agree with his release he was sent back to prison to finish his 20 years.

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"The look of horror and pain on their face... Is something that never, never go away," Robert Woodall told WFTV.


Behind bars, in his prison blues, Woodall is the first to admit he's to blame for the events that have torn his family up for the past decade and a half.

"Christmas Eve 2004, I made the worst mistake of my life," said Woodall.

His wife Stephanie and their two boys, Robbie and Lance, who was just an infant then, were out-of-state when Woodall, who was 23 years old at the time, went downtown with friends for drinks.

They got into a scuffle in a parking garage elevator with another group of guys. After security broke it up, both groups ended up at the same apartment complex.

The fight resumed and Woodall had a gun. He smashed one man in the face then said he tried to end the fight.

"I didn't think that me firing two warning shots on the ground, somebody would get hit," said Woodall.

But they did. A bullet ricocheted off the ground and struck another man in the ankle.

Woodall, who had no prior record, was arrested and later convicted.

"After I heard about the situation, I'm like, 'Oh you know,' because I'm from Texas, I'm like, 'Oh he'll probably get three years or something,'" said Woodall.

But because the crimes involved a firearm, he was sentenced to a minimum mandatory of 20 years, at least that was the law then.

"When he was incarcerated for so long we were just in shock," said Stephanie.

"And realized that it was my fault. Then I'm the one who caused him to have this pain," said Woodall.

The family scraped by. There were visits in prison. Woodall said he changed his life.

Years later, after the laws changed, getting rid of Florida's 10-20-Life Law, judges were given more discretion on sentences.

Woodall got another day in court. He told the judge what happened that night and about the changes he made in his life.

"He looked at me said, 'Mr. Woodard, I believe you.' And he said, 'I'm gonna sentence you to 11 years time served,'" said Woodall.

As soon as he came out of prison and on the car ride home, he was hugging his sons and telling them that he would never go back.

The family bought a house. Woodall opened a lawn care business. He steered clear of trouble and spent time with his boys, going to church and sporting events.

"He was home for a year and showed what he would basically do if he was released," said Stephanie.

"It was the greatest time in my life," said Woodall.

But then the unexpected happened. The state's attorney general's office got involved and challenged the new sentence and the appeal was successful.

"The first thing I thought really wasn't about me going back to prison, is 'How do I tell Stephanie and the boys. How do I break their heart again?'" said Woodall.

After 18 months of freedom in 2017, Woodall broke the promise he'd made to Robby and Lance and went back behind bars to serve the rest of a mandatory sentence for a law that's no longer on the books.

Another nine years.

The time ticks by slowly for Woodall as he misses seeing his boys grow up and his family struggles to make ends meet without him.

Woodall and his family are now working to petition the state of Florida for clemency and are looking at a federal appeal.