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Power-line vandal still mum on motive after guilty plea

by Linda Satter | March 11, 2015 at 3:25 a.m.

A Jacksonville man faces 10 years to life in federal prison after pleading guilty Tuesday to four charges, admitting he tampered with high-voltage lines and set a switching station on fire in the summer and fall of 2013. The vandalism cost power companies in Pulaski and Lonoke counties more than $4 million to repair.

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Jason Woodring, 38, admitted to the charges, noting as he stood before U.S. District Judge Billy Roy Wilson, "I've never tried to deny that." But he didn't say why he meticulously rigged a high-voltage electrical tower so it would be pulled down by a passing train onto tracks used to carry hazardous waste, causing a power failure in Cabot. Nor did he explain why he doused an electrical switching station on Arkansas 165 near Scott with ethanol and motor oil and then ignited it, or used a stolen tractor to pull down a 1,000-volt line in Jacksonville, leaving 9,000 customers without power for two hours.

The vandalism occurred, respectively, on Aug. 21, 2013; Sept. 29, 2013; and Oct. 6, 2013.

In exchange for his guilty plea to two counts of destruction of an energy facility and single counts of using fire to commit a felony and being a methamphetamine user in possession of guns and ammunition, prosecutors have agreed to ask the judge to impose a 15-year sentence. The guns, which federal agents seized from Woodring's home, included two rifles, three shotguns and 286 rounds of rifle and shotgun ammunition.

Wilson scheduled Woodring's sentencing for June 18, after a pre-sentence investigation by U.S. probation officers.

In the event that Wilson doesn't agree to the negotiated sentence after reviewing the pre-sentence report, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gordon asked the judge to hold off for now on dismissing Woodring's other charges -- carrying out a terrorist attack on a railroad carrier; maliciously damaging or attempting to damage an extra high-voltage station by fire; willfully damaging energy facility property in an attempt to cause a significant interruption of service; and knowingly possessing an illegally shortened .20-gauge shotgun with an obliterated serial number that wasn't registered to him.

If he hadn't pleaded guilty, Woodring, represented by Assistant Federal Public Defender Chris Tarver, was scheduled to face a jury trial Tuesday on all the charges.

Wearing a pink uniform from the Lonoke County jail, Woodring initially told the judge from a courtroom lectern that he had "a couple of issues with my attorney" that prevented him from agreeing that he had been adequately represented. When the judge asked about the issues, Woodring said Tarver wouldn't file a motion that Woodring wanted him to file, and complained that last-minute plea negotiations pressured him into feeling that if he turned down a plea bargain, he might have to go to trial without being adequately prepared.

After some conversation, Wilson rescheduled Woodring's plea hearing for Thursday, if he still felt that he wanted to plead guilty at that point. But minutes after court was dismissed and Tarver spoke privately with Woodring, the defendant decided to accept the plea agreement Tuesday after all. He told the judge he was "satisfied with the reasoning" behind his attorney's decisions.

In outlining for the court the accusations against Woodring, Gordon described how some blue insulation hose similar to that found at one of the crime scenes was discovered at Woodring's home on John Shelton Road on Oct. 8, 2013, after several callers reported hearing an explosion. He said Woodring was already under suspicion in the series of electrical mishaps, and the finding of the hose led to his arrest. Once in custody, Gordon said, Woodring discussed with federal agents at length how he carried out the crimes -- including that he spent months slowly dismantling the 100-foot-tall electrical tower.

Gordon told the judge that according to Woodring, he spent a great deal of time carefully weighing how to disable the tower without killing himself.

"He admitted he was a user of meth, and even asked if he could take a break [during his interview] to take some," Gordon said, adding that the request was denied. Gordon noted that Woodring also was heard telling someone during a recorded jail phone call that he had been using the illegal drug since he was 16 years old.

Metro on 03/11/2015

Print Headline: Power-line vandal still mum on motive after guilty plea

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