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Brazen N.Y. killing of L.A. man leaves puzzling questions

Video surveillance cameras capture the shooting death of Brandon Woodard, who had a record of 20 arrests, but no clear reason for being in New York.

December 12, 2012|By Tina Susman, Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein, Los Angeles Times
  • An image provided by police shows the gunman, left, just before he shot Brandon Woodard.
An image provided by police shows the gunman, left, just before he shot Brandon… (Associated Press )

NEW YORK — Brandon Woodard checked out of his midtown Manhattan hotel room Monday afternoon and emerged onto 58th Street a block from Columbus Circle.

As the 31-year-old Playa Vista man walked down the street, a man standing near a Lincoln sedan pulled a hood over his head as Woodard passed. A short time later, the two passed each other a second time. The man turned, pulled out a gun and shot Woodard at close range in the back of the head with a 9-millimeter pistol. He got back into the Lincoln, which pulled away.

The shooting has riveted New York and made for tabloid headlines. New York police have described the killing as an assassination-style attack.

But it has also reverberated in Los Angeles, where Woodard was raised and made his home.

Woodard grew up in Ladera Heights, played basketball at the exclusive Campbell Hall private high school in Studio City and graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 2003. His stepfather, Rod Wellington, said in an interview Tuesday that Woodard was pursuing a law degree at the University of West Los Angeles School of Law (school officials would not confirm if he was enrolled).

His stepfather described Woodard as a "loving son, a loving father and a loving brother." Woodard had a 4-year-old daughter and had a "great relationship" with the girl and her mother, he said.

"He was a good young man," Wellington said.

But court records revealed a more complex picture. Woodard has been arrested at least 20 times, according to New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

In 2004, Woodard was cited by Las Vegas police and summoned to court after a backstage scuffle with a security guard at an Usher concert at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. Police said Woodard had entered a restricted area and refused orders to leave.

He failed to appear in court in connection with the citation and a warrant was issued for his arrest. He was arrested in 2008 on that bench warrant but police could not immediately say how the matter was resolved.

Los Angeles authorities allege that in February 2008 he stole items from a Whole Foods Market and a Gelson's. He was sentenced to nine days in county jail and 200 hours of community service.

In December 2009, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor hit-and-run driving charge in Torrance. He received three years and a day in county jail.

Prosecutors said that he came back to court in 2010 and 2011 for probation violation hearings related to arrests for grand theft and battery against a former spouse as well as a spousal battery arrest in January. In April, prosecutors said his probation was completed.

The Los Angeles city attorney's office said there was a hearing related to the September 2010 spousal abuse allegation and noted that a bench warrant had been issued for Woodard's arrest as recently as July 3. It was not immediately clear how the warrant was resolved.

Officials with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said Woodard was due in Beverly Hills Superior Court on Jan. 22 for a hearing in connection with a single charge of cocaine possession. He was originally charged in June.

Court records also indicated that Woodard's mother had been involved in multiple civil lawsuits related to her real estate business dealings. When Woodard was arrested in January, he listed his occupation as real estate.

Neither police nor family members said they have any idea for a motive.

On Tuesday, Kelly said detectives had made progress in their investigation from ballistics evidence and video surveillance footage that captured the shooting and the suspected getaway vehicle.

He added that investigators were pursuing all leads, including Woodard's criminal history and his family's real estate dealings.

Kelly said Woodard, who carried three cellphones, was believed to be a promoter of some kind, but did not elaborate.

It was not clear what brought Woodard to New York after he purchased a one-way ticket from California, Kelly said, or where he was going when he left the hotel. Woodard checked into the hotel Sunday and checked out about 1:15 p.m. the next day.

Kelly said it was clear the gunman lay in wait for Woodard and didn't act alone.

The suspect had a driver who, after the hit, pulled a silver or gray Lincoln onto 58th Street, Kelly said. Once the gunman was in the car, the vehicle headed south on 7th Avenue and disappeared. A short time later, a car "similar in description" was seen heading through the midtown tunnel eastbound into Queens, where the driver paid the toll with cash.

Investigators had the license plate of the vehicle, but Kelly declined to release the information, citing the ongoing investigation.

Kelly also said ballistics analysis linked the weapon to a 2009 shooting in Queens. The gun was fired at a residence, he said — no one was hurt and no arrests were made.

Kelly said Monday's crime was particularly surprising, given such a public setting.

"You can characterize it as either being brazen or foolhardy," he said.

tina.susman@latimes.comkate.mather@latimes.comandrew.blankstein@latimes.com

Times staff writers Adolfo Flores, Jeff Gottlieb and Frank Shyong contributed to this report. Susman reported from New York, Mather and Blankstein from Los Angeles.

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