by ANDY SEVILLA
Mark David Simmons, who prosecutors called “one of the most dangerous people to step foot in this courthouse” was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, two years after shooting a Buda man to death and burning his body beyond recognition a week later.
On the eleventh day of a dramatic and, at times, farcical trial in Judge Bill Henry’s state district court, a jury found Simmons guilty of killing Steven Woelfel at his house in the Hays Country Oaks subdivision in the northern part of the county.
In addition to the life sentence for murder, Simmons was sentenced to 20 years for arson and 10 years for tampering with evidence. The convictions also carried a total of $30,000 in fines. Simmons will serve the sentences concurrently and be eligible for parole in 30 years.
“I feel relieved, we’re glad that they found him guilty of the maximum allowed, because he had no remorse to the end,” the victim’s brother, Michael Woefel, said before leaving the courtroom. “He had no compassion. He didn’t offer an apology. He’s a cold blooded murderer and we’re just glad that it’s over with.”
The unusual trial pitted Simmons, representing himself, against first assistant District Attorney and Fred Weber and assistant district attorney Cathy Compton. Simmons said the government, particularly the National Guard, had harassed him for years and the FBI had been monitoring Woelfel because of their disapproval of the government’s handling of the wars on terror, the job market, and America’s financial crisis. Simmons said he and Woelfel lived in fear and were under constant duress because of the “incessant harassment” by the government.
“My defense is: Accident,” Simmons said during his closing statements. “I’m saying that in a very duress stressed-out state of mind, he got careless with a gun (by waving it around), I overreacted, and he ended up dead.”
Simmons was defiant until the end, telling jurors, “If I get life, 200 years, or 20 years, I’m going to die in prison. I really could care less. I’m doing this on general principle.”
Prosecutors painted Simmons a militant extremist obsessed with conspiracy theories and a violent perversion of Christianity, suggesting also that he was sympathetic to white supremacy and other strains of fringe politics.
Weber described Woelfel’s death as an “execution-style” shooting. Weber claimed Simmons was “desperate” for money because “he was on the run from the law” so he killed Woelfel and robbed him. At the time of the shooting, Simmons had fled a felony gun charge in Aransas County.
“You went to Buda for the specific purpose of robbing (Woelfel) to get money, didn’t you?” Weber asked Simmons during cross examination.
Simmons replied, “You’re a liar Mr. Weber, and that’s all you are.”
Simmons admitted to shooting Woelfel, but claimed it was an accident that was happened under the pressure of government surveillance and went on to say that had the government not been harassing them for years, “it’s highly possible that none of this would have happened.”
“You knew what was happening to (Woelfel), and you knew what was happening to me, and you didn’t do a damn thing about it,” Simmons said.
After fatally shooting Woelfel, Simmons took the dead body to the garage and left him there for about a week before burning the corpse and Woelfel’s home to cover up his crime, Weber said.
Simmons said he considered burying the body, but it had been raining and it was too wet outside, therefore deciding to burn it instead. The charred body was found by law enforcement officers on April 17, 2010 after neighbors reported a fire at Woelfel’s home and the explosion of a gas stove greeted arriving fire fighters.
Before jurors deliberated on Simmons’ sentencing, he told them that he was prepared to spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I’m not going to ask you for mercy. I never have,” Simmons told jurors, adding that at his age, life in prison “hopefully won’t be a long time,” and that his “life wasn’t worth living anyway.”
Henry held him in contempt of court three separate times during the proceedings, one of those for telling Weber to go to hell during his cross-examination. Simmons continuously complained of an unfair trail, citing “lies” from the prosecution and their successful attempt of preventing him to call all his witnesses, he said.
“For some reason it was necessary for the state, through the sheriff’s department, not to subpoena my witnesses,” Simmons said. “Thirty one people is a far cry from what actually showed up. A lot of them were eyewitnesses to some of the stuff that I’m claiming happened. Three of them were some of the most renown experts in the world on government harassment of citizens right here in Austin.”
Those he subpoenaed included radical radio talk show host Alex Jones and local journalists.
Simmons said the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable dubt that he went to Woelfel’s home to murder him and rob him. He maintains that Woelfel’s death was an accident and that the State inaccurately portrayed him, was “cheap” and practiced “surface petty grilling.”
“The presentation here has been a little bit lopsided, for which I’m going to appeal,” Simmons said.Email | Print