Confident he would beat his murder charge, Eugene "Captain Nemo" Woodland was asking his attorney last week about arrangements for going home.
But Tuesday, a jury torpedoed the captain's plans.The five-woman, three-man jury reached its decision after only 11/2 hours, finding Woodland guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated assault in the 1990 shooting death of Bruce Larson.
But the 64-year-old Woodland is not about to accept the verdict. "Who do I file an appeal with? I'm innocent!" he told his attorney moments after the announcement.
Woodland will be sentenced July 11 before Judge Anne Stirba. He faces a maximum five-years-to-life prison sentence for the murder and a zero-to-five-years sentence for the assault.
Six eyewitnesses testified that they saw Woodland shoot Larson, a father of five, inside the building Woodland once owned at 4050 S. 900 East. Woodland had planned to turn the building into Captain Nemo's Dinner Theater by night and a fitness center by day. But he lost the building during bankruptcy proceedings, and Larson later bought it.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Ann Boyden said Woodland was obviously still upset about losing the building. She reminded jurors of a phone call six months before the shooting when Woodland told Larson's business partner the straw that broke the camel's back was when Larson covered up Woodland's picture on a billboard with Larson's name.
Woodland said that in the old days, men strapped on six-shooters to settle their differences. "He kept guns for that very purpose," Boyden said.
Witnesses said Woodland asked Larson, 40, what he was doing with his building before shooting Larson five times on March 28, 1990.
Woodland was arrested moments after the shooting and has spent much of the past four years in the Utah State Hospital fighting rulings that he is mentally incompetent. But despite being found competent and allowed to stand trial, even his defense attorneys still question Woodland's mental state.
"There's still a question in my mind," attorney Charles Lloyd said after the verdict. "The extent of his fixation on the conspiracy theory distracts from his ability to assist counsel."
Woodland testified he was framed for the killing and said the murder weapon was planted on him. He said he was on a routine walk around the building that day when he was chased into a nearby apartment complex and beaten.
"He still believes he is innocent. He has that to hang onto. But more than that, nobody can say he is mentally ill," Lloyd said.
The defense attorney said he and co-counsel Lynn Donaldson may have pursued other defense avenues had their client allowed them to. Woodland insisted that they not bring up his alcoholism or his background of mental illness - factors that may have given him a lesser manslaughter charge.
"On each choice, we had to defer to him," Lloyd said. "Ultimately, he is the person that has to be satisfied with the defense we presented, and he was."
During his closing arguments, Lloyd said Woodland was just like his namesake, Captain Nemo, from the Jules Verne novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea." Woodland is a "dreamer, visionary and willing to take risks," Lloyd said.
Woodland hoped to attract national entertainers to his dinner theater. "Everyone would bask in the spotlight. He would be the city's host."
Lloyd said his client's dream was shattered with the bankruptcy, but expounded on Woodland's conspiracy theory, telling jurors there may be another killer out there. He criticized deputy sheriffs for not conducting a gunshot residue test on Woodland to see if he fired the gun. He also tried to punch holes into the testimony of the prosecution witnesses and even questioned if someone wiped fingerprints off unspent bullets in the gun.
"But for the testimony of the six eyewitness conspirators, there's really little to contradict the testimony of Mr. Woodland," he said.
Karen Larson said it has been a difficult four years for her family wondering if Woodland would ever stand trial for her husband's death. "I'm glad it's over," she said. "I just don't want anyone else to get hurt."