‘We can begin to heal and move on’: Man sentenced to 2 life sentences 5 years after murders in Petersburg
PETERSBURG, Va. (WWBT) - The man accused of killing two people in 2017 pleaded guilty Thursday to several charges, including murder.
In January 2017, Pastor Alfred Woodard was abducted from the Petersburg home that he shared with his wife of more than 50 years. Police say Kristopher Jones forced Pastor Woodard to go to an ATM and withdraw money. Pastor Woodard was able to get away and get help, but Jones took off.
Pastor Woodard’s wife, Minnie, later went missing. Her body was eventually found in Chesterfield. Jones’s girlfriend, Janice Lugo, was also found dead in her home the same day Minnie Woodard went missing.
The family says Jones was familiar to the couple because the Woodards helped him in the past. Janice Lugo’s family says she was trying to get out of an abusive relationship with Jones, at one point telling loved ones, “if you don’t hear from me, [Jones] killed me.”
Jones was charged with both murders after he was captured in Norfolk.
On June 23, Jones pleaded guilty to murder, robbery and abduction. He was sentenced to two life sentences plus 15 years.
In Petersburg Circuit Court, the Commonwealth presented a summary of evidence saying Jones went to the Woodards’ house with plans to rob them. Jones told the Woodards he had killed his girlfriend. After running for several days, police say he asked if he would go straight to jail for murder on the day he was arrested. Jones told police Minnie Woodard’s body was at a property in Matoaca.
Jones’s attorney says questions about his client’s mental health, as well as the pandemic, were behind the delay in the case concluding but said, “[Jones] has waited for this day so he could accept responsibility.”
When asked by the judge if there was anything he wanted to say, he simply said no.
“Two families still suffered great loss. He has an opportunity to do what Mother Woodard preached for so many years, receive forgiveness,” explained the Woodards’ son-in-law, Andrew Clement.
Several family members of Janice Lugo and the Woodards spoke through tears as they gave victim impact statements.
Janice Lugo’s mother, Aida De Costa Gomez, says Janice would do anything for anyone. She says Janice was the love of her life and has been in therapy since her death.
Freddie De Costa Gomez, Lugo’s stepfather, told the court, “putting a man in jail for the rest of his life is one thing, but it doesn’t bring back my stepdaughter.”
During her statement, the Woodards’ daughter Malisa Clement looked at Jones and said, “I know that my mother did nothing but treat you with kindness.”
“When they say closure, I don’t know if it is really closure, but it allows the family to no longer have to go motions hearings and to know the judicial system has entered a sentencing and recognized the value of my mother’s life, Janice’s life, and my dad’s life,” said Clement after court. “It may be hard for people to comprehend, but my mother would want us to forgive.”
In court, Clement also spoke about how she used to call her mother every day, saying she was a God-fearing, generous woman.
Clement and two of her six siblings say the stress and sadness of losing their mother have taken a toll on them emotionally and physically. Several of the Woodard children have developed physical and mental health challenges such as vertigo, depression and even hearing loss in Clement’s case.
The children say Alfred Woodard has not been the same since January 2017. Alfred Woodard Jr. says their father suffered a stroke after his wife of 56 years death. They say in some ways, the family feels they lost both their father and mother. Alfred Woodard told his children he did not want to come to court for Jones’s plea hearing Thursday.
Tony Woodard told the court they had been waiting for the day they could begin to move on. He told the judge, “I pray there is some remorse with this young man that decided to take a life from all of us.”
“After five-plus years, we were able to come and bring some closure to what happened on that one terrible day in 2017, " said Tony Woodard. “My family, we are healing; every day is a healing process. The process has been long, but to finally come to this point where we can begin to heal and move on, I think my mother would appreciate that.”
Tony Woodard says his mother’s mantra in life was “owe no man nothing but to love them.” He says despite the heartbreak of the last five years, she would want them to focus on love, especially in the family.
The Woodards’ granddaughter, Alexis, says her grandmother was the best person in the world. Growing up in Georgia, she would spend summers in Petersburg. She remembers her grandmother being a great cook, a powerful preacher and ‘a songbird,’ singing a song called ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow.’ Alexis Woodard says she doesn’t think she will ever again experience the pain she felt losing her grandmother.
“She was home base. She was the core. We have to do the work to find that core [again] and figure out what it means to keep her alive and to honor and rebind. She was the best. If you had three seconds with her, you would feel it,” Alexis Woodard explained.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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