It was the bait to lure him into an alleged trap.
Bicknell walked with Murphy to her home nearby. She told him the kit was in the basement. He stepped down the dark stairwell. When the basement lights snapped on, Bicknell saw plastic covering the ground, AL.com reported. Tools were laid out across the room.
Two men stood in the basement. They wore plastic hazmat-like suits. One held a gun. Another had a machete. They beckoned Bicknell down at gunpoint.
So began a bizarre case that eventually led to criminal charges and a conviction for James William Woolley, a 52-year-old Birmingham family and criminal law attorney. Along with two accomplices, prosecutors say Woolley terrorized Bicknell, even threatening to cut off his genitals with a bolt cutter.
“It’s kind of ironic that you expect an individual that’s actually practiced law to now be on the other side of the law,” Birmingham Police Lt. Sean Edwards told Fox 6 News after Woolley was arrested in February 2016.
Last March a jury convicted Woolley of robbery, kidnapping and attempted murder. On Thursday, a judge sentenced the former attorney to 20 years in prison, the Macon Telegraph reported.
At the trial, prosecutors told jurors Woolley and the others had concocted the plan because of a $60 debt the victim owed the attorney for tires, according to the Telegraph. When Bicknell was forced to sit in the plastic-covered basement, Woolley and another man — Monique Roscoe — began beating him with the gun and blunt edge of the machete. Court records indicate the 28-year-old victim’s wallet, money clip, phone, necklace and tactical knife were taken from him.
The attackers also allegedly pulled out a bolt cutter, asking Bicknell to pick a finger to lose. The men then threatened to cut off the victim’s genitals with the bolt cutter. Bicknell allegedly kept saying he knew nothing about the debt.
“He thought his life was over,” a prosecutor later told the jury.
Bicknell’s moment of salvation came when a phone rang.
While his attackers were at work on the victim, one of them received a call, prosecutors said in court. With them distracted, Bicknell ran for the stairs. Roscoe fired shots, but the victim was not hit, instead jumping a fence for safety, according to the Telegraph. If Bicknell had not run, he would have been killed, prosecutors would later allege at the trial.
“Why else have plastic down everywhere?” a prosecutor said in court. “They wanted to finish the job. Thankfully, they didn’t.”
Both Murphy and Roscoe were also arrested and charged in the attack. Roscoe pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery and second-degree attempted assault, AL.com reported. Murphy pleaded to conspiracy to commit robbery. Both eventually testified against Woolley.
Woolley — whose law license was inactive at the time of the attack because he failed to pay his annual dues, Fox 6 News reported — opted for trial. In court his attorneys blasted the victim as an unreliable “doper” who was “probably high” at the time of the alleged incident, AL.com reported.
The defendant’s attorneys argued Woolley was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. “It’s just like going to Cracker Barrel,” his attorney said during the closing arguments. “Someone comes in and does something, you aren’t responsible for something that person does after you walk in.”
The jury deliberated for an hour before returning a verdict, according to AL.com.
“This was a monstrous attack, which is particularly reprehensible that these deeds were committed by a man who, as a lawyer, was entrusted as an officer of the court,” Attorney General Steve Marshal said in a statement after the sentencing. “I am pleased that my office was successful in this prosecution to bring an important measure of justice for this victim.”
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