A Los Angeles woman who was just 18 when she was sentenced to life in prison for killing her abusive boyfriend is on the verge of release after spending 20 years behind bars.
The state parole board repeatedly recommended Flozelle Woodmore, 39, for parole over the last five years. But Govs. Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed the decisions, saying that Woodmore continued to pose "an unreasonable risk of danger to society." Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's office also opposed her release.
But late Thursday, Schwarzenegger, without explanation, declined to review the board's latest parole recommendation. Andrea Bible, the coordinator of Free Battered Women, a San Francisco-based advocacy group that works on behalf of women imprisoned for killing abusive partners, said she expected that Woodmore would be released today from a prison in Chowchilla and transported to a home near Pasadena, where she will be living for the immediate future.
Woodmore was not available for comment. "She told me she was scared" about the prospect of a sudden change in her life, said Ruth Dewson, owner of a prominent San Francisco hat store, who played a key role in efforts to secure Woodmore's release.
"I told her, 'You have nothing to be afraid of; you have the good Lord and me; you'll be fine.' "
Oakland attorney Johanna D. Hoffmann, who works with Legal Services for Prisoners With Children, said Woodmore had been subjected to sexual, physical, economic and psychological abuse at the hands of her boyfriend Clifton Morrow since they got involved when she was 13.
In the summer of 1986, Morrow, 23, learned that Woodmore, then 18, planned to end the relationship. On Aug. 13, they argued at Morrow's South-Central home. He hit Woodmore numerous times, shoved their 3-year-old son, Clifton Jr., against a wall and threatened to kill both of them, according to subsequent testimony. Woodmore ran out of the house and Morrow followed, carrying an object that looked like an ice pick.
"If I can't have you, no one can," Morrow declared, according to testimony. Woodmore ran across the street to her sister's house, returned with a .357 magnum and killed Morrow with a single shot to the chest.
Woodmore, who had no prior criminal record and was working part time as a meat cutter, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 1987 and was sentenced to 15 years to life by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert W. Armstrong.
In recent years, Armstrong, who is now retired, had supported Woodmore's bid for freedom.
"There was no question at the time of the killing that [Morrow] had been an abusive person to Ms. Woodmore and had beaten her on many occasions and just prior to the tragic killing had even threatened the life of their child," Armstrong wrote in a 2004 letter.
In 1996, in an even more striking development, Pearlie Mae Morrow, the murder victim's mother, and Tania Morrow, his sister, began advocating that the Board of Prison Terms release Woodmore.
"I realize it must seem strange for the relative of a victim to ask that the person who committed the crime be set free," Tania Morrow wrote to the Board of Prison Terms in 2004. "She has taken something very dear and irreplaceable away from me and my family. Yet I have completely forgiven Flozelle. I know because of her letters that she deeply regrets what happened between her and my brother.... I know [she] will continue to suffer when released from prison because she will have to live with what she did for the rest of her life," Tania Morrow emphasized.
"Although I am the victim's mother and dearly miss my son, I completely forgive Muka for what happened," Pearlie Mae Morrow wrote in a 2004 letter, referring to Woodmore by her nickname. "My late husband, Clifford Morrow, and I spent a lot of time with Muka. I grew to know her very well when she was involved with my son, and I have come to love her like a daughter. She is also the mother of our beloved grandson, Clifton Jr."
Woodmore expressed deep remorse at a board hearing in March.
"I feel extremely bad. I think I feel as bad as a human being can feel," she told the parole board. "All I'm asking in this is for forgiveness. That's all I can ask for, you know. If I could change the past, I would, if only for the sake of my son."
Cooley's office continued to argue that she belonged in prison. Los Angeles County Deputy Dist. Atty. David Dahle told the parole board the "dynamics of violence" within Woodmore's family (her son was sent to prison for a murder committed years after she was incarcerated) should be held against her. "This is a pattern of behavior imprinted, I believe from generation to generation," Dahle said.
But he failed to persuade board members.
Ed Martinez, who presided at the parole hearing, noted that Woodmore had no disciplinary violations in prison since 1992, earning a general education degree and training as a counselor.
In addition to the battered women's organization and her pro bono attorneys, Woodmore's bid for freedom was aided considerably by Dewson, who circulated petitions at her church and generated hundreds of letters to the parole board.
Dewson, who runs a foundation to help low-income girls, said she first heard about Woodmore seven years ago and came to Los Angeles to meet her family and learn more about the case.
"The more I investigated the more I knew she needed my help," Dewson said in an interview Friday. She said her efforts to get political figures to come to her aid were almost all rebuffed. "Flozelle had no value to them," Dewson said.
"The less value she had to them the more value she had to me," Dewson said.