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Thursday, November 26, 2020

Leesburg man’s young daughter inspires him to resolve criminal past and move forward

Lee Charles Woodcock

A Leesburg man who committed non-violent crimes more than 15 years ago is hoping for leniency from a Lake County judge and the chance to move forward with his life in a positive way.

That’s according to Orlando attorney Mark T. Conan, who filed a motion Oct. 30 in Lake County Court to discharge 37-year-old Lee Charles Woodcock from probation and allow him to finally put the mistakes he made while in his early twenties behind him once and for all.

“He has a 7-year-old daughter now and he wants to move forward and be a part of her life,” said Conan, of Conan & Herman, P.A.

Woodcock was 21 when he was arrested on Nov. 21, 2004 by a Leesburg Police officer after 21 fraudulent checks were cashed at a Leesburg gas station. An employee at the station called police to report the crime and the officer then made contact with the victim, who lived in the Country Life Mobile Home Park and was the printed owner of the checks.

The victim met the officer at the Leesburg Police Department and claimed that her son, then-21-year-old Jeremiah P. Segan, had taken her checkbook. She said she already had filed a report with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and had questioned both Segan and his best friend, Woodcock, about the theft and they had admitted to taking the checkbook and forging and uttering the checks, the police report from the original incident states.

The victim told the officer that Segan, who didn’t know how to write in cursive, admitted to uttering all of the checks but only forging the ones with her name printed where the signature goes. She claimed that Woodcock admitted to forging the checks that were signed in cursive writing. She also said she didn’t write any of the checks nor give either Segan or Woodcock permission to cash them and she wanted them prosecuted for the crime, the police report says.

About an hour later, the victim returned to the police station with Segan and Woodcock. Both “spontaneously” said they wanted to turn themselves in and admitted to committing the offenses, the report says, adding that they were then booked and transported to the Lake County Jail for processing.

Segan was charged with 21 counts of uttering a forged Instrument, 18 counts of forgery, one count of grand theft and one count of organized fraud. Woodcock was charged with four counts of forgery.

Conan said Segan scored high enough on a scoresheet used in felony crimes in Florida to warrant mandatory time in a state prison. But he cut a plea bargain and ended up serving 11 months and 29 days in the Lake County Jail instead.

Conan said Woodcock, who didn’t have a prior criminal record, didn’t score a mandatory prison sentence based on the fact that forgery is a non-violent offense. He also took a plea bargain that put him on probation and ordered him to make restitution in the amount of $137.30.

“He was a 21-year-old kid and his public defender came to him and said if he signed a piece of paper, he could get out of jail that day,” Conan said. “So he did.”

Conan said Woodcock eventually violated his probation and it was modified for an additional year of supervision and a suspended sentence of two years with the Department of Corrections. He provided a “dirty” urine sample that apparently tested positive for marijuana and it is alleged that he “absconded” and stopped reporting. A violation was submitted but the warrant for Woodcock’s arrest specifically stated not to extradite him if he was outside the state of Florida, Conan said.

Lee Charles Woodcock’s mugshot from 2004

Woodcock moved to New York and eventually was pulled over for a traffic stop. He was held briefly because of the outstanding warrant but was released when it was determined that Florida wouldn’t seek to have him returned to the state to face charges. But he made the decision to address his past anyway and try to move forward with his life, Conan said.

“He left upstate New York and came back to Central Florida so he could be a part of his daughter’s life,” Conan said.

Woodcock went to the Lake County Jail on the night of Sept. 21, turned himself in on the outstanding warrant and is being held on no bond. He is now facing the four third-degree felony counts of forgery of a check and is scheduled to appear in Lake County Court on Tuesday, Nov. 24 in front of Judge James R. Baxley.

While in custody in the jail, Conan said Woodcock saved the life of a fellow inmate who had hung himself. He said his client has been “struggling mentally” with the “traumatic events” he witnessed in saving the prisoner, who suffered brain damage to the point that the state of Florida deemed his case “not suitable for prosecution.”

Conan said there are a variety of reasons why he believes Woodcock should be set free and have his probation terminated. He said by the time he appears in court, he will have served about 100 days in jail connected with the crimes, so he will be asking for time served in lieu of further time behind bars.

Conan also pointed out that the Lake County Jail recently dealt with an outbreak of COVID-19 that claimed the lives of two deputies and left multiple inmates and other sheriff’s personnel battling the illness. He said it “just doesn’t many any sense” to expose Woodcock to that type of danger given the fact that his crimes were non-violent and he came back to Florida on his own to turn himself in and make things right.

Conan added that it also wouldn’t make sense to see Woodcock serve two years of prison time – something the state attorney’s office is seeking because that was part of his original plea bargain – for a variety of reasons, one of which was that his main crime was the urine test that came back positive for marijuana. Conan pointed out in his motion that the Florida Legislature and certain law enforcement agencies have taken a different view on how to punish for THC – the active substance in marijuana – if at all. In fact, he said, it is currently legal for concentration levels between .05 and .08 percent if someone has a medical marijuana card.

In his motion, Conan also cited portions of the original arrest affidavit that read:

  • “The defendant was an accomplice to the offense and was a relatively minor participant in the criminal conduct.”
  • “The need for payment of restitution to the victim outweighs the need for a prison sentence.”
  • “The defendant cooperated with the state to resolve the current offense.”
  • “The offense was committed in an unsophisticated manner and was an isolated incident for which the defendant has shown remorse.”

Finally, Conan said, if Woodcock is sent to a state prison, he will receive a harsher sentence than Segan, “the crime’s ringleader” who eventually was sent to state prison in 2007 on two unrelated crimes.

“The irony of these proceedings is that the State of Florida rewarded the most culpable party and is now unjustly punishing the minor participant, in direct conflict with the Sentencing Guidelines,” Conan’s motion states.

“He’ll be a convicted felon for the rest of his life but he’s ready to put all of this behind him and move on,” Conan said.

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