Two Exeter men have today, Thursday 10 August, been convicted of the murder of James Woodhouse, having killed him over a £700 drug debt, before one of them attempted to dispose of his body in a wheelie bin.
Brett Edwards, 38, of St Thomas, Exeter, and Thomas Killen, 33, of North Lawn Court, Exeter, denied killing 30-year-old James Woodhouse in November 2016 but were found guilty at Exeter Crown Court.
Both Brett Edwards and Thomas Killen were sentenced to life imprisonment to serve a minimum of 17 years.
Officers launched a murder investigation following the discovery of the body of Mr Woodhouse, partially in a wheelie bin, at a flat on Okehampton Road Exeter on 21st November 2016. Mr Woodhouse, originally from York had lived in Exeter for the past seven years.
During the trial, the court heard how he was addicted to heroin and crack cocaine. His life had taken a downward turn going from a respectable job as a charity fundraiser to an occasionally homeless drug user. Pathology evidence confirmed that Mr Woodhouse had received blows to his head which resulted in a fatal haemorrhage to an artery in the brain.
The flat in Okehampton Road was used by Mr Edwards who had let Mr Woodhouse stay at the flat. Mr Woodhouse was said to be frightened of Thomas Killen, and that he had been avoiding Killen as he owed him £700.
CCTV Evidence showed that on 11th November 2016 a car containing Mr Killen and Mr Edwards had been driven to the area o the flat on Okehampton Road and was near the flat for ten minutes before CCTV picked up the car driving away.
Thomas Killen denied the murder, he had claimed that he had been to the flat to collect protein powder. He also claimed that Mr Edwards and Mr Woodhouse had argued and Mr Edwards had assaulted Mr Woodhouse.
Mr Edwards denied being at the flat on the day of the assault and blamed Killen for the assault, insisting that there was a conspiracy to convict him.
Days after the murder of Mr Woodhouse a series of phone calls were made between Mr Killen and David Frost, a go-between, who Edwards would use to contact Killen.
Killen also claimed that is was by pure coincidence that he had chosen to close his Facebook account down on the same day that Mr Woodhouse’s body was found.
CCTV Evidence [attached] also showed that on 20th November 2016, two men were dragging a wheelie bin across St Thomas towards Okehampton Road. Edwards denied being one of the men stealing the wheelie bin to remove the body of Mr Woodhouse from his flat and that the man in the CCTV footage was not him, but changed his account halfway through the trial to admit that it was him.
Throughout the trial Killen maintained that he had not touched Mr Woodhouse, and that it had been Edwards who had assaulted him. Edwards denied being present when Mr Woodhouse was fatally assaulted.
Judge Sir John Royce said: “They were both in it together. They went there in order to be violent to Woodhouse.
“James woodhouse must have been terrified as he was scared of Killen. Edwards betrayed him by delivering Killen to the premises. The two of you [Edwards and Killen] carried out a vicious assault against this poor defenceless man who stood no chance.
“You left this man unconscious and dying and calmly locked him in the flat and left. Neither of you appeared to care a jot that his body was decomposing. Killen, you remained skilfully out of site. Neither of you had a hint of remorse.
“This death profoundly effected the family and the statement from the victim’s sister, Sarah, makes a very moving read.
“I am satisfied he was lured to the flat by you Edwards, which has been plotted by you, Killen. James Woodhouse has been tricked. You two went there knowing a severe beating was to be delivered. You two are not of good character and you are no stranger of the court and are both happy to continue to offend.
“This investigation has been very thoroughly and very skilfully investigated and I wish to commend those relevant officers.”
Detective Inspector Gregg Dawe said: “We welcome today’s sentence. This is a tragic case of a man falling victim to a life of drugs, to which he paid the ultimate price.
“This was a fast moving investigation with both the offenders denying their involvement. The Major Crime Investigation Team worked tirelessly gathering evidence to bring these offenders to justice.
“Our thoughts are with the victim’s family who have remained dignified throughout, and I hope that this verdict and sentence will bring some comfort to them.”