When Texas lawmakers convene in January, a man who’s been behind bars for 22-years for his part in a Waurika teen’s brutal murder will be following them closely.
How they vote on several bills could tell him how many more years he will be imprisoned.
At the James V. Allred Unit off FM 369 in Wichita County, inmate Randy Wood, and Larissa Huia were married in October 2016.
Right at 20-years before they exchanged their vows, Wood, now 39, along with fellow teens Josh Bagwell and Curtis Gambill were charged with the unbelievably heinous murder of Heather Rich, 16.
Extensive news coverage would follow, trials, the escapes of the other two men, and also television documentaries that still air around the world.
In 2014, Larissa saw the man she’d later marry while watching one in her native, New Zealand, “I was just so horrified by it that someone that young would be sentenced to such a huge term in prison that, it just bothered me. It really bothered me. And, for about a month I couldn’t get it out of my head. I was just like, I have to write to him and tell him there’s one person in the world that doesn’t think he’s a bad person.”
In October 1996, Heather Rich was listed as a runaway for days after sneaking out of her window to party with Wood, Bagwell, and Gambill. Seven days later, Heather’s body was found floating in a Montague County Creek.
Wood was crowned Waurika’s Homecoming King that same night, Heather had been a Homecoming Queen candidate.
To avoid the death penalty, Gambill pleaded guilty to shooting Heather with a shotgun once in the head and eight more times in the back, at close range to cover up her rape.
But, later at Bagwell’s trial, he said it was Wood who pulled the trigger. Both Gambill and Bagwell swore Wood fired all the shots in a jealous rage, but former Montague County District Attorney, Tim Cole, told us in 1998, Wood passed a polygraph test before he was offered a plea bargain and Gambill failed his.
Wood said, “It focused a lot on.. did I harm her in any way? Did I kill her? Did I shoot her after she was dead? Did Curtis make me shoot her or did Josh make me shoot her? Did I make one of them shoot her? It was kind of covering all bases pertaining to the actual murder. I think they wanted to know that whoever was going to pass this was going to, had no history of that night doing anything harmful to her.”
But, Wood did admit to putting clothes back on the passed out girl’s body after a night of methamphetamine and alcohol in Waurika, carrying her to the truck, and then helping Bagwell take her body out on a Montague County bridge where Gambill fired all the shots into her unconscious body before she was dropped over the side.
“I think once we finally got there, I had the hope everything was all for show, or whatever, you know. I never even, up until the point I heard the gunshots I had the hope this was all some weirdo dream, some bad dream and it was not this serious. I don’t know what I was expecting to come out of it, but I was not expecting this result,” Wood said.
So that jurors would not question his testimony during Bagwell’s trial, Wood threw away his plea bargain that would have landed him a life sentence and a chance of parole in 30 years instead of the 40 years he later received.
“It lets me sleep at night, you know? I know it wasn’t the best decision I could have made, but it eased my conscience that I didn’t plead guilty to something I didn’t do,” Wood said.
Gambill ended up getting two life sentences, and like Wood, Bagwell is serving at least 40 years.
“I look back now and I see I was foolish in that because had I taken it, in 8 more years I would have been eligible for parole. At the same time, I have been somewhat fighting my conviction on this basis because I didn’t, I went to trial,” Wood said.
After more than half his life spent behind bars, Wood dreams of freedom beyond the prison walls, while outside, his new ally is working to make that dream possible.
Larissa Wood said, “With the way the parole board is now, if he went up for parole in 2036 and failed in that bid, he has to wait for another 10- years before he can apply again, which would make it 50- years, or 60 years if he fails again, or 70- years. That’s just crazy. I really feel like the punishment really outweighs the crime, definitely.”
Hope for the Woods lie in bills that never got to a vote on the house and senate floors in the last Texas legislature.
Two bills were introduced providing earlier parole eligibility for inmates convicted of an offense committed when younger than 18.
They hope if the 86th Texas legislature, beginning in January, passes one, it will be made retroactive by either the courts or lawmakers.
“I think the overall aspect of them is the same, and it’s people who were 17 years old and sentenced to an excessive amount of time will do half their time, or in my case 20- years in order to see parole instead of doing a full 40- years. Which, I’d be ready for parole already,” Randy Wood said.
“It doesn’t mean that all offenders who were juveniles at the time they were convicted are just going to be set free. People like to make that out to skim over it and freak people out, but it’s not about that. It’s about giving them the opportunity to prove themselves, to show they’re people and they’re rehabilitated and deserve a second chance on life,” Larissa Wood said.
So far, there has been no reaction to Wood’s efforts for freedom, as both of Heather’s parents have since passed away.
Larissa hopes to be back in Texas in March to speak before a committee that could be going over the bills.
The way things are now, it will be 18- more years before Wood is eligible for parole.