Ph.D. Graduate Fights Crime as U.S. Attorney

Thomas Scott Woodward

After teaching at Central State University in Oklahoma for six years, Ph.D. Alumnus Thomas Scott Woodward took a new direction in his career, pursuing his passion for the law.

Since graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1973 and serving a short tenure as a professor, Woodward returned to law school at Oklahoma City University and has risen through the ranks as a federal prosecutor. In 2010, he was appointed the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District in Oklahoma, where he manages a staff of 25 attorneys.

During his career, he has been involved in several high profile cases, including the 1983 conviction of the San Jacinto County Sheriff for prisoner torture and waterboarding, and served on an elite national emergency response entity which was organized following the Murrah Building Bombing in Oklahoma City.

Woodward said he has frequently drawn on lessons from SHSU during his legal career.

"For instance, our studies in testing and measurement have assisted me in evaluating numerous psychiatric reports," said Woodward. "Research and methodology has aided me immeasurably in preparation to cross-examine countless experts for the defense, and to prepare the direct examination of the experts for the government...The administrative core concepts I garnered from the doctoral program have served me well in the management/coordination of the human and technological resources that I oversee."

Woodward's interest in the law was sparked while working with the Oklahoma Legislature in recodifying the state's criminal laws and developing sentencing guidelines. Woodward went back to law school and interned with a law firm representing the family of Karen Silkwood, an American labor activist who died mysteriously after investigating problems at a nuclear power plant.

Woodward took a job with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Houston where he was assigned to the civil rights division. It was there that he prosecuted James "Humpy" Parker, the San Jacinto Sheriff convicted of torturing and waterboarding prisoners and running an extortion scheme along the U.S. 59 corridor. The case was turned into a book, The Terror on Highway 59, and later a movie.

During his law career, Woodward has tried more than 200 cases, including homicide, interstate murder for hire, fish and wildlife violations, tax, racketeering, gang and narcotics interdiction, fraud, robbery, child pornography and kidnapping.

Woodward prosecuted the first federal cases using restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) and mitochondrial DNA, one involving the international kidnapping of a two-year-old boy from Mexico and one involving the kidnapping and murder of a teenaged girl. He also was cross designated by the State of Texas to prosecute a capital murder case and the defendant, Richard Brimage, has since been executed in Huntsville.

Woodward also was selected to participate in an elite national group, called the Attorney Critical Incident Response Team, which was formed after the Murrah building bombing to provide quick response in the event of a terrorist incident. He served on that national team for 10 years before it was disbanded and delegated to each of the U.S. Attorneys' 93 offices.

Woodward introduces a newly sworn in Assistant U.S. Attorney to federal Judge Claire Eagan
Woodward introduces a newly sworn in Assistant U.S. Attorney in federal Judge Claire Eagan's (center) courtroom.

Woodward moved to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Tulsa, OK in 1992 as the Senior Litigation Counsel, training new attorneys, and later as the First Assistant U.S. Attorney. After serving twice temporarily as the U.S. Attorney in Tulsa, he was appointed to the position in 2010 by the Chief Judge for the Northern District of Oklahoma.

In addition to handling federal cases in the jurisdiction, his office also prosecutes felonies, such as murders, rapes, robbery, child sexual abuse and casino theft cases on Indian lands. Located at the crossroads of the country, his office is involved in many drug trafficking interdiction and gun smuggling cases. He also is charged with defending the government in civil cases in his jurisdiction.

Woodward fondly remembers his time at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, under the tutelage of such legends as former Dean George Killinger and Dr. George Beto as well as current professors, such as Drs. Glen Kercher, Rolando del Carmen, Charles Friel and Sam Souryal. He remembers lugging boxes full of punch cards around campus for two required computer classes, which at the time represented the latest in technology.

"Huntsville was a special environment," Woodward recalls. "I had a house on a lake and a Redbone Coonhound. At that time, the Houston Oilers had their training camp in Huntsville. The community was rural and bucolic. Many of us worked in the prisons. I was awarded a stipend and worked as a locksmith for the university."

Woodward said his education has served him well.

"In practicing criminal law as a federal prosecutor, it has helped me tremendously to have a broad educational grounding," said Woodward. "Research, statistics, sociology, psychology and administrative management. You have a broader base of understanding and the theory behind it all. You have a broader perspective of different people's roles in the system. I learned incalculably from the other students, who in large measure are criminal justice practitioners."

He can still recall specific lectures by his professors.

"The lessons of every teacher come back to me in some way or another," Woodward said. "When preparing for trial, I commonly draw upon many of the concepts which our esteemed faculty shared with us."

Member of The Texas State University System