Walker County (Georgia) Sheriff Steve Wilson fired court officer Patrick Ray Wooten last week after a grand jury indicted him in the death of his son.
Wooten was arrested by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in May 2017 after he shot 30-year-old Patrick Lance Wooten in the chest. The case has been pending since then, but the district attorney's office presented the evidence to a grand jury last month. The grand jury indicted Patrick Ray Wooten on a charge of malice murder on Jan. 28.
A court officer and detention officer since January 2010, Patrick Ray Wooten has been on administrative leave without pay since the shooting. The department's policy requires Wilson to fire employees if a grand jury indicts them.
The suspect's attorney, public defender David Dunn, declined to comment on his legal strategy Wednesday. But on Feb. 7, he filed a motion for immunity. Dunn argued that Patrick Ray Wooten cannot be convicted because he was defending his home and his family when he shot his son.
The defendant's wife, Judy Wooten, testified during a May 2017 bond hearing that her husband felt threatened. She said Patrick Lance Wooten "abused and frightened" his 7-year-old daughter the morning of the shooting. He also allegedly shoved Judy Wooten to the ground.
"You were afraid of him," Dunn said during a bond hearing.
"Very much," she said.
The GBI has not released many details about what happened in the minutes before Patrick Ray Wooten shot his son. During the bond hearing, Judge Ralph Van Pelt Jr. ordered Dunn to stop asking questions about the shooting after a prosecutor objected. (A case's evidence is not the point of a bond hearing.)
Patrick Lance Wooten had a history of violent criminal arrests, though he was not prosecuted. North Georgia police officers charged him with battery against his wife three times in 2014. She told officers that he bit her, choked her, pulled her hair and poked her in an eye, bursting a blood vessel. A state court solicitor dropped those charges at his wife's request in January 2015.
She also received a restraining order against him in 2014. Police arrested Patrick Lance Wooten on a battery charge again in August 2016, when he allegedly shoved his wife to the ground. She then received a second restraining order, telling a judge, "He threatened to blow my head off."
In early 2017, Chickamauga police also arrested Patrick Lance Wooten three times on allegations that he attacked his father and mother. In one case, in January 2017, Patrick Ray Wooten told Officer Josh Garrison that his son threw an oxygen tank into an aquarium, punched a mirror, punched a TV and slapped his father. Patrick Lance Wooten denied tearing up the house or attacking his father and said he broke the aquarium when he tried to clean it, according to Garrison's report at the time.
In 2015, after police arrested Patrick Lance Wooten twice on driving under the influence charges and he pleaded guilty to possessing oxycodone, a Superior Court judge ordered him to go to Carter Hope Center, a residential treatment program in Dalton. He was supposed to stay for six months, but he left after a week.
Staff at the center alerted probation. Patrick Lance Wooten was then ordered to turn himself in at the Walker County Jail. But before he did, Patrick Ray Wooten had a meeting with Superior Court Judge Kristina Cook Graham, whom he said he ran into outside the courthouse.
According to his personnel file, Patrick Ray Wooten said during an internal investigation that Graham agreed that his son did not need substance abuse treatment. He said they agreed to meet in her office the next day.
Assistant District Attorney Beth Evans later sent an email to the sheriff's office, complaining that she saw Patrick Ray Wooten going into Graham's office. She insisted on joining them. Evans, who was overseeing the case, said she was not alerted about the meeting in advance. She also said Patrick Lance Wooten and his wife were in the room, too, despite a restraining order telling him to stay away from his wife.
At Evans' request, Graham put a condition on Patrick Lance Wooten's bond, telling him he had to stay away from his wife. Sheriff Steve Wilson later determined that Patrick Ray Wooten abused his power by setting up a private bond hearing with the judge. He suspended him for two days.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.