One door to Dimetrious Woods’ freedom was resoundingly closed Tuesday. After two years of parole, the Columbia businessman is facing prison once more.
The Missouri Supreme Court denied Woods’ motion for a rehearing, marking the end of his legal struggle. Without an ongoing case, he can be taken back to prison at any time, according to his lawyer Taylor Rickard.
With the immediate future uncertain, Woods drove out to say goodbye to his mother on Friday.
“This might be the last time I see her,” he said. “I’m expecting to go back to prison now — figuring out how to explain it to my kids and how to re-delegate with my business. I’ve gotta make so many plans.”
Woods, 40, has spent his parole enmeshing back into the Columbia community — speaking and mentoring at schools and churches, taking care of his six kids and running two businesses, Woods Auto Spa and Munchi’s Fish and Chicc’n food truck. His brief time outside has a looming but uncertain end date now that the court overruled his motion for a rehearing this week.
The legal battle that brought years of uncertainty into Woods’ life began with legislation passed in 2014. Woods had been arrested for trafficking cocaine many years earlier, according to previous reporting, and under the Prior and Persistent sentencing statute of the time, his nonviolent drug offense qualified him for a 25-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
The 2014 bill, SB491, overturned the sentencing provisions of the statute, and the new rules took effect in 2017. At that time, Woods had served 11 years of his sentence with a good record and was quickly granted parole.
The legislation would have presented the same opportunity to about 120 other inmates with outdated sentences for nonviolent drug offenses.
However, the Missouri Department of Corrections disputed the retroactive application of the new legislation, and this year, the Missouri Supreme Court sided with the DOC, according to previous reporting. The decision would send Woods back to prison and negate the possibility of parole for the nonviolent drug offenders still in prison.
Woods and his lawyers have tried to maintain his freedom through three different avenues. They sent Attorney General Eric Schmitt a letter requesting that his office voluntarily dismiss the appeal, which Rickard noted is no longer possible now that the case is fully closed. They resubmitted a request for clemency to Gov. Mike Parson, which would commute the rest of Woods’s sentence if granted. And they filed a rehearing motion — their last chance at winning the case in court.
That last avenue ended in a roadblock when the court denied the motion this week.
“This means that Dimetrious is in danger of going back to prison at any time,” Rickard said.
But she also said they anticipated that the motion for a rehearing wouldn’t have much of a chance.
“We were hoping that (the motion) would take longer and would give us more time for the governor to commute his sentence or for the legislature to get something through,” Rickard said.
There is still hope that the governor could commute Woods’ sentence soon, but there is little chance that any legislation to legalize retroactive application of the 2014 changes to the law will have time to pass this session.
Rep. Cheri Toalson-Reisch, R-Hallsville, filed a bill, HB2694, that would work to keep Woods out of prison, but the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the General Assembly before it could be considered.
Toalson-Reisch is one of Woods’s staunchest supporters. She said they’ve become good friends and talk every week. She says she believes the legislation has a good chance of passage.
“This is a bipartisan issue, and I think a lot of people feel it’s the right thing to do,” Toalson Reisch said.
Since the ruling earlier this year, the Columbia community has rallied around the issue. Supporters have signed petitions by the thousands and even organized a caravan to lobby lawmakers in Jefferson City on Woods’ behalf.
“Every day there are three to five people who stop by the restaurant and tell me they pray for me or wish me luck,” Woods said. “A lot of them want to hug or touch me, but that’s dangerous now. I’ve had tremendous support. It’s one of the things that keeps me going.”
For many supporters, the campaign doesn’t end with this decision, or even after Woods is put back in prison.
“Dimetrious has been a client for a long time now,” Rickard said. “Even though we’ve technically hit the end of the road for us in the courts, we’re not going to stop fighting for him.”
The people closest to him were deeply upset by the outcome, she said. According to Woods, his family has been hurt and scared by the news.
But through it all, Woods said he’s focused on hope. Not just for himself, though he is still hoping for the possibility of a commutation and legislation to change the system, but to encourage others, especially people who are incarcerated, to aspire to be better so their lives can improve.
“Hope is incredibly important. When you take away hope, it becomes easy to throw your life away. That’s what no one understands about my people,” Woods said. “See I have existed without hope; that’s what got me into this situation in the first place. And now I want to be able to give hope to other people in situations like mine.”