MADISON COUNTY, AL (WAFF) - A man found guilty of the murder of his stepfather was sentenced to life in prison in Madison County, and had an outburst in the courtroom as he learned his fate behind bars.
Clarence Fearn, 46, was briefly tased by correctional officers during his sentencing hearing on Thursday. As he stood up in the direction of the judge, a shock was delivered by authorities and he was forced back into his chair.
Before, during and after he received the lengthy prison sentence for the 2009 killing, Fearn continued to deny that he was the person who gunned down his stepfather, George Woodard, Jr.
Woodard was fatally shot several times in the driveway of his Madison County home on Debbie Boulevard at 5:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2009.
He was on the way to work at the Toyota plant when he was killed. He had been an assistant manager in machining for seven years at the time of his murder.
Fearn was arrested and charged in the case several years later. In January 2018, a jury found him guilty of murder.
On Thursday afternoon, family members and friends filled the courtroom as Madison County Circuit Court Judge Chris Comer sentenced Fearn to life in prison. It was the outcome prosecutors and relatives pushed for.
"We're pleased with the outcome of the case. There's the saying that said the mills of god grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine. This case took ten years to get there and it is definitely one that has ground slowly but now that we've gotten here, justice has been served," said Madison County Assistant District Tim Douthit.
According the state, Fearn ambushed Woodard outside of his home over some family conversations that had caused tension.
"As far we can tell and what they jury heard at trial, was that he was being disrespected by his dad. That his dad had kicked him out of the house, telling him that he was too old and was selling drugs and was running around with people he shouldn't be. And Clarence Fear apparently couldn't handle that so he snuck up on him and executed him," Douthit explained.
Prosecutors weren't surprised by Fearn's antics in the courtroom, as he repeatedly talked back to the judge during the hearing. In past proceedings, he's been removed from the courtroom due to his inappropriate behavior.
"There are no rules but his rules for him. He makes the rules and if you cross him, he's going to do what he needs to do. He had the same respect for his father that he did for the judge. I'm going to do what I'm going to do and I don't care what anyone else tells me," Douthit added.
The Woodard family said the crime has caused them incredible pain. They told the judge they're still grieving, but hope now that they will get some finality now that the case has come to an end.
"We have to remember that George was killed on September 30,2009. Our family had to live with the fact that from 2009, to 2015 when he was charged with murder and people were withholding evidence and would not talk to the police. That's what broken our family apart," stated the victim's sister, Shelia Woodard.
The defense told the judge that the state's star witness lied on the stand during Fearn's trial, in exchange for leniency in a separate drug case. They added that there was no forensic or eyewitness evidence connecting Fearn to the crime. They went on to say that there was also an alibi witness who said Fearn was with her at the time of the deadly shooting and there was no crime scene evidence submitted from footprints found in a neighbor's backyard.
Fearn spoke on his own behalf during the hearing. He denied killing Woodard, who he called "Pops," and denied being in the area at the time of the killing. He said he had a good relationship with his stepfather, who helped raise him. He turned to his family members and told them he did not kill Woodard. He continued making that statement even as he was being led out of the courtroom.
George Woodard III, the victim's son, told Judge Comer that his father was a leader and a hard worker who "was everything to a lot of people."
He said the family still loves Clarence, but the crime has put them through some "tough years." He thanked the sheriff's office and district attorney's office for their hard work on the case.
Chester Woodard, the victim's brother, also spoke during the hearing, saying the slaying has caused the family "deep anguish."
He said George was "kind-hearted, an awesome deacon and an all-around good person" who was always helping others.
Chester turned to Clarence Fearn and told him that he has wreaked havoc on his family and that they're still grieving. He added that relatives don't want to see Fearn get out of prison and hurt anyone else.
Judge Comer said he hopes his ruling on the life sentence brings the family some finality.
"That's an appropriate sentence," Shelia Woodard stated. "It's a great sentence to me. He shouldn't have parole. He should never be on the street again."
Prosecutors applauded the family for being so strong through the long, sad process as they followed the case through the criminal justice system.
"What's heartbreaking for this is that we go years looking for a killer. We go four or five days in trial and all anybody hears about is Clarence. You have this family sitting back here, wanting to talk about the victim who was a gardener and a deacon and a good man and they never got to do that. This was their first opportunity to get in public and tell the judge and tell the world what kind of person George Woodard was and what exactly we're missing out on," Douthit added.
The defense has already given the court notice that they are going to appeal.
Several letters from the victim's friends have been submitted to the court ahead of Fearn's sentencing.
Tasia Sublett worked with George Woodard's wife Darlene (Fearn's mother) for several years and came to know the couple very well.
"George was one of the good ones," she wrote to Judge Comer. "He worshiped the ground Darlene walked on. They were both active and faithful Christians. They took care of their families and their church families. George had a joyful personality that could befriend anyone. He loved his job and his coworkers and never had anything negative to say about anyone."
Sublett went on to write that she believes that Fearn's actions not only took George Woodard's life, but also led to the sickness and untimely death of his mother, Darlene.
"I can't say for sure what they would want for Clarence, but in my mind I would be at peace if he never sets foot outside prison again. I will pray for you and for a just sentencing decision in this case," she added.
George Woodard's sister, Alta, also wrote a letter to the judge speaking to his character.
"My brother George was hard working and personified the impeccable character of a human being," she stated. "My brother's murder was hard on our family and seeing my mother go through this has been equally painful."
She stressed that his relatives cope with "tremendous loss and insatiable and unsettling agony" every day.
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