Silence of the Guinea Pigs

Charles Hamilton Woodson of Front Royal, VA was convicted of animal cruelty May 18 for slaughtering a pet guinea pig and wearing the hide as a hat. Photo courtesy Warren County, VA Sheriff's Office.

Woodson convicted in throat slitting-hat making incident

By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report

FRONT ROYAL, VA – A local man remains incarcerated after being convicted on May 18th of a Class I misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals related to the throat slitting of a guinea pig he had purchased from a local pet store in January.

Forty-one-year-old Charles Hamilton Woodson was sentenced to six months in jail, with four months suspended. He was also fined $1,000, with that fine entirely suspended. Woodson was also found guilty of violating the conditions of his initial $2500 unsecured bond but received no additional sentence on that charge, which landed him in jail on March 28. Prior to that he had been free on the unsecured bond since his Feb. 3rd arrest at his Royal Arms Apartments residence. Woodson had been held in the Warren County Jail for 51 days at the time of his conviction, leaving nine days to be served on the two months of unsuspended time.

However after Woodson’s attorney, Margarita Wood appealed the convictions and returned to court to argue against a $100 appeal bond being imposed, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Elizabeth Bradley argued that Woodson continue to be held without bond pending the appeals.

Warren County General District Court Judge W. Dale Houff agreed, citing concerns around the capias arrest for violating bond by making threatening gestures to a neighbor woman and her three young children. At 5:25 p.m., two hours and fifteen minutes after the trial started and 65 minutes after the guilty verdict, Houff ruled Woodson would continue to be held without bond. Defense attorney Wood indicated she would return to court to argue against that ruling, likely as the trial moves to the Circuit Court level.

Bizarre behavior

In rendering his verdict and sentencing, Judge Houff noted he remained concerned about Woodson’s behavior related to the case. “While he has no previous record I am concerned with his unusual behavior. He slaughtered it, cut its throat – I’m not sure I can parlay that into not being cruel. I don’t want it to appear the court condones this type of behavior.”

The judge called the entire affair “an unusual and troubling situation.”

Included in the court ruling was a condition that Woodson continue to get psychological counseling apparently begun in the wake of a psychological evaluation ordered by the court.

There is also a one-year prohibition on Woodson owning pets.

Woodson’s attorney told the court that her client was now on medication and that he was receiving counseling at Northwestern Community Services. Questioned by the court, Woodson’s mother, present for the trial with a number of others with some relationship to her or her son, confirmed crisis intervention counseling her son was receiving at NWCS. She added she had also been told her son would be seeing an additional caseworker at Northwestern.

Throughout his day in court, both awaiting and during the trial, Woodson exhibited bizarre behavior. He smiled, often broadly, at nothing in particular, and occasionally held a Catholic rosary he was wearing around his neck, over his orange jail jumpsuit, up in his right hand, sometimes while looking at a pamphlet in his left hand. After observing Woodson for awhile prior to the trial, a bailiff crossed the courtroom to where Woodson was seated alone on an inmate bench and removed a pencil from Woodson’s orange jumpsuit pocket and gave it to the bailiff standing next to the defendant. After he was ordered held without bond, Woodson smiled broadly at the group with his mother and made the sign of the cross before leaving the courtroom.

Silence of the guinea pigs

Unlike Clarice Starling, a character in the book and movie “Silence of the Lambs”, it appears Woodson does not wake up sweating from nightmares about the dying screams of animals locked within his memories.

Of course Starling was not the perpetrator of the slaughter for butchering of the lambs of her childhood memories, while Woodson came to trial on May 18th accused of the throat-slitting slaughter for hide of a guinea pig he purchased from a pet store.

Past media reports prior to his incarceration on bond term violations quote Woodson as saying he has been partially disabled since being hit by a truck and suffering “closed head trauma” 15 years ago while studying biology at the University of California at Berkeley. No testimony about Woodson’s mental condition was introduced until the sentencing phase of the trial, and then nothing specific was identified concerning his condition.

While Woodson’s reported statements about his condition appear to indicate he is aware he has problems resulting from his accident, he does not seem to understand how those problems impact his ability to function and interrelate with the world around him on a daily basis. Consequently neighbors describe hostile, troubling and sometimes threatening behavior, while Woodson’s earlier public statements indicate he believes he was doing what any good Davy Crockett fan might, employing humane throat cutting techniques on his guinea pig learned in college before the fall, or in this case, the accident.

Threats to neighbors

On March 26, neighbor Kelly Mills told authorities Woodson had made a throat slitting gesture toward her and her three young children, ages three, two and one years. Two days later he was arrested on a capias for being in violation of the good behavior terms of his bond.

Woodson was initially arrested on a cruelty to animals charge on Feb. 3rd after a neighbor supplied authorities with a photograph of Woodson sporting a guinea pig carcass on his head. At that time Woodson raised not only eyebrows, but also the fears of some neighbors in the Royal Arms Apartments when they saw the most recent addition to what they described as an often bizarre array of clothing worn by their neighbor.

During Woodson’s May 18th trial, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Bradley asked one neighbor if she had noticed anything unusual about Woodson’s appearance early this year.
“There’s always something unusual about his appearance – [this time] I called it a skunk on his head – and he had that robe thing he often wears on and sandals,” Lucinda Jenkins, who lived across the hall from Woodson, replied about her first impression at seeing Woodson’s new head gear. Jenkins noted that her brother had been visiting at the time and had come up to stand next to her at her apartment door during this encounter.

“I asked what he had on his head and he said, ‘I will slaughter all of you and remove the bones from your body.’ I shut the door,” Jenkins said of her termination of the conversation with the 6-foot, 230 pound Woodson at that point.

Betty Stockslager said she first encountered Woodson and his new “hat” in early January when she had left to pick her daughter up for school. She said her neighbor came downstairs in a wool robe with an animal on his head. Asked on cross examination what kind of animal, Stockslager said “between a rabbit and a guinea pig. Stockslager said that as an animal lover she objected to the headpiece and eventually took a picture of the bald-headed Woodson with it on his head.

Noah’s Ark Pet Store clerk Stacy Leary testified Woodson entered the store on the cold morning of Jan. 11, dressed in sandals, a long brown robe with lots of “necklaces” with crosses on them around his neck. She said she didn’t initially wait on Woodson because she heard him talking and thought another employee was helping him. However after she realized he was talking to himself, she asked if he was looking for a pet. Eventually Woodson asked about the cheapest guinea pigs available.

“I said these old guys are on sale,” Leary testified. Woodson picked a brown and tan one she said. After Woodson told Leary he did not need a cage or food, she said she told Woodson what she tells all customers – “Enjoy your pet and call if you have any questions.”

“Oh it will be the most fun I’ve had in a long time,” Leary said Woodson replied.

On cross examination defense counsel tried to establish what has been Woodson’s public contention from the time of his arrest, that he had killed an animal sold by pet stores at least in part, as a food source for other animals like pythons. However Leary replied that Noah’s Ark only sells mice and rats as a food-source for other animals. Guinea pigs and rabbits were sold only as pets, Leary testified.

I hear you knockin’

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Animal Control Deputy Gerald Cubbage testified he initially visited Woodson’s residence on Feb. 3rd to ask if he could speak to him after his department had been presented a photo of Woodson and his headpiece. Cubbage testified Woodson met him at his apartment door wearing the guinea pig carcass, including its head. Cubbage added that there was “a very bad odor” emanating from the apartment, its occupant, or his “hat.”

After the deputy verified the visit was about the guinea pig, Cubbage said Woodson backed into his apartment, said “no” and shut the door. A short time later two more deputies arrived with the search warrant Cubbage requested. Woodson then let the three deputies in. Cubbage said at one point he asked if there were any weapons in the house to which Woodson replied “no.” But after spotting a knife on a living room table in close proximity, he informed Woodson he was under arrest at which time he cuffed and Mirandized him.

Cubbage said Woodson said he didn’t want to talk about “what was on his head” but did respond to other questions.

Animal control officer Laura Gomez testified after receiving the photo of Woodson with the guinea pig head ornament, she had called area pet stores to see if a similar colored guinea pig had recently been sold, pinning down Noah’s Ark as the possible source of the Woodson head ornament. When she arrived with the search warrant on Feb. 3, she verified Woodson came to the door wearing the headpiece in question.

When Woodson sat at a chair by a table at which she said she saw what she described as a guinea pig leg or leg bone, she asked him to remove his headpiece. Gomez testified that Woodson identified a sock-covered wine glass on the table as the place he put his headpiece when he took it off. After she saw a bag of cat food, Gomez asked Woodson if he had a cat. He replied no, that he fed stray cats with the food.

Gomez also said Woodson volunteered that he had “humanely euthanized” the guinea pig by cutting its throat.

A third animal control officer, Deputy Jim Petty also testified that Woodson had volunteered the information that “the animal did not suffer” and that he had killed it “within the standards of American culture.”

Asked if Woodson said how he killed the guinea pig on cross examination, Petty said Woodson said he “had severed its head with a pocket knife,” adding “it did not suffer.”

Defense counsel Wood asked Petty if he had Mirandized Woodson prior to this conversation. Petty said not, but that Woodson had volunteered the information.

It’s just a guinea pig

Wood argued for a dismissal of the charge of animal cruelty. She said that Virginia codes only prohibit the killing of dogs and cats for their hides. “There is no evidence this defendant cruelly killed this animal – all you have is a dead guinea pig,” she told the court.

Bradley countered that state codes defined a standard of treatment for “companion animals” that mandated they be fed, given water and housed. “I can’t fathom that the legislature would require these standards of treatment but would say it is okay to kill it for a headpiece.”

In rebuttal Wood argued that if her client was guilty, it was of a Class IV misdemeanor, failure to care for a domestic animal, rather then the Class I cruelty charge. – “It’s called butchering, slaughtering without suffering whether it is a tiny, little rabbit or guinea pig, it is not different than a cow. It should not be an appeal to emotions – it is what it is. It may be unusual, dare I say weird. But it doesn’t rise to the level of this statute,” Wood argued for her client.

In denying the motion to dismiss, Judge Houff said he believed the prosecution evidence had risen to the standard of proving that Woodson’s act was done “cruelly and unnecessarily.”
When the court asked if there was more evidence to be presented prior to a verdict being rendered, Wood added, “You have to kill it to take its hide.” The defense presented no witnesses.

Apparently the judge disagreed with the premise the hide taking was justified or legal, and found Woodson guilty of both the cruelty to animals charge and the violation of his bond through the throat slitting gesture made to his neighbor and her children.

Neighbors said Woodson’s apartment appears to have been cleaned out and they assume that once released, he will no longer be their neighbor. Bradley said Woodson’s living situation would be a topic of discussion at any future bond hearings.

Asked about the availability of Woodson’s court-ordered mental evaluation, Bradley added that like information about the medication he is now on as a result of that evaluation, the information is not part of the open court record.

I discussed what I’d heard in court on May 18th with a number of people, several of whom pointed out the killing of small animals is a described pattern of behavior exhibited by some convicted serial killers. Is there a danger Charles Woodson could eventually act on some of his threatening gestures or statements to neighbors? After all, throat slitting and bone removal are things Woodson had recently done to the guinea pig in question as the Noah’s Ark clerk testified, essentially “for fun.”

All of this, as Judge W. Dale Houff commented, has been “an unusual and troubling situation.” Unfortunately, it is likely a situation that will not end with this misdemeanor verdict, appeal and eventual sentencing and release of Charles H. Woodson.

Roger Bianchini:


  1. I have met Woodson at St. John’s parish and I am glad he is getting mental help. He seems like a troubled man. Given his physical size and strength, I too would be worried about my kids and safety with him around.

    I’ve been following this story, and Mr. Bianchini brings to print for the first time some alarming statements by Woodson, like “I will slaughter all of you and remove the bones from your body.” or “Oh it will be the most fun I’ve had in a long time.” These are the words of a psychopath in the making.

    That said, I think the court seriously erred in convicting him on the charge of animal cruelty for killing a guinea pig — an animal that in several countries, like Peru, is routinely killed for food or for sport, no different than killing a squirrel or a raccoon around here, even if Woodson’s manner of obtaining it was bizarre. There was no evidence he killed it in an inhumane fashion, which seems central here to convicting him of the charge of cruelty. I think Attorney Woods’ argument is sound.

    The court should have simply taken this man off the streets for violation of the conditions of his release on bond. That would have solved the clearly disconcerting problem in the background of this whole trial — whether Woodson is a threat to the lives of his neighbors.

    Thank you, Mr. Bianchini, for reporting on this. Although the situation with Charles is sad, the title of this article was hilarious. I will have to banish mental images of Hannibal Lecter talking to Judge Houff saying, “I had a pet ferret once. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

  2. Charles was one of those rare gifted students that developed schizophrenia in college, ending his academic path and eventually led him to file for disability. Everyone should pray for him and his parents who have to deal with his illness first hand. His parents have a life sentence in dealing with Charles’s illness. Its a shame the courts didn’t seem to have his full mental health history available and have branded him a criminal instead of placing him in a facility where could be monitored and treated. The type of care he needs is unaffordable for most families, and seems to be unavailable unless the individual commits a serious crime like assault or homicide.

  3. That said, I think the court seriously erred in convicting him on the charge of animal cruelty for killing a guinea pig — an animal that in several countries, like Peru, is routinely killed for food or for sport, no different than killing a squirrel or a raccoon around here.
    Well, a lot of people take exception to that too. I don’t why you automatically assume it’s alright.

    He had a bag of cat food?! Someone needs to go there and search for evidence of torturing cats. All the read flags are there- I cannot believe they just let that go.

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