March 16, 2011 -- Rhode Island prosecutors and prison officials are using a convicted child killer's gruesome journals to make the case that he should be involuntarily committed if he is granted early release from prison this summer.
Michael Woodmansee, 52, was sentenced to 40 years in prison after he reached a plea deal in the murder of a 5-year-old boy. But because of a law that allows prisoners to have time shaved off their sentence for good behavior, Woodmansee could be released this summer, after serving just 28 years of his sentence.
The possible early release has caused outrage in Rhode Island, and the young victim's father even said he would kill Woodmansee if he is released in August.
On Monday, the South Kingstown Police Department handed over Woodmansee's private journal pages to the Rhode Island Department of Corrections as part of the effort to keep Woodmansee from becoming a free man.
Two court-ordered psychiatrists will read the journal, conduct face-to-face interviews and review Woodmansee's voluminous prison records before making independent recommendations to the Department of Corrections.
The journal contains descriptions relating to the brutal murder of 5-year-old Jason Foreman that are so graphic, the court ordered the journal sealed when Woodmansee was sentenced in 1983.
"It is a booklet, several pages in length. It is written in paragraph form," said South Kingstown Police Chief Vincent Vespia, one of only a handful of people who have read it. "I will not tell you what was in it, but I will tell you that it was a horrible, horrible crime, among the most gruesome investigations I have ever participated in and I've been around the block a few times."
The victim's father, John Foreman, said the police have told him that Woodmansee describes in the journal how he had "stripped the bones" and "eaten my son's flesh."
In 1975, the 5-year-old boy was playing with his sisters and brothers and a bunch of other neighborhood children on a warm, sunny Sunday afternoon. Then he disappeared.
"We searched all night long," John Foreman said. "The whole town was out searching, every day. But there wasn't a clue, nothing. So much of it is blurred out of my mind."
It took seven years but, finally, in 1982 after Woodmansee, a neighbor of the Foreman's, was arrested for another crime, he confessed to the murder of Jason Foreman and in a plea agreement was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
"You know it was a little bit of a relief at least I knew where he was," foreman said. "But my wife and I, we cried and cried, all those years our son was just across the street."
Vespia said there is "major concern" in South Kingstown that Woodmansee might be released. Last weekend, hundreds gathered to demonstrate against that possibility.
Like many states, Rhode Island has a law that stipulates prisoners can "earn time" for following the "institutional rules."
According to the Department of Corrections chief A.T. Wall, Woodmansee was a very compliant prisoner who had only one small infraction during his 28 years in prison. As a result, he was able to shave a full 12 years off his sentence, making him eligible for release on or before Aug. 12.
Legally there is little the DOC can do to prevent Woodmansee's release, other than an involuntary commitment.
In order to make the determination, psychiatrists must certify that the inmate would benefit from the care and treatment of a mental health facility and that if left unsupervised he could do serious harm to himself or others.
Wall said this kind of involuntary commitment assessment has happened only one other time that he knows of in the state. In that case, the psychiatrists did petition for the inmate to be committed involuntarily, but before that could happen the inmate chose to commit himself voluntarily.
Last week, Woodmansee was transferred to a Department of Corrections facility in Cranston, R.I., where he is housed in a special protective custody unit with other high-risk inmates.
He has a single cell and can interact with other protective custody inmates. They eat together in a separate dining room, and have access to the outdoors in a small courtyard.
Woodmansee has not made his wishes known as of yet. Both of his parents are dead and he has no known relatives in the South Kingstown area.
"I have no information that he wants to be released and I have no information that in the unlikely event he is released he would want to come back to this community," Vespia said. "So this is all very premature."
But premature or not, the news of Woodmansee's possible early release still hit John Foreman hard.
"I got real mad, I got angry. I got upset. I got scared. All of these emotions were going through my head," said Foreman. "I didn't know there was such a thing called early release. Parole, yes. But not early release."
Foreman, 61, got so angry that he told a radio station he would kill Woodmansee when he got out of prison.
When asked if he regretted his remarks, Foreman said, "That's not the right way to go, but I would probably do it just the same. There are no words for him."
Wall said he is in the process of hiring the psychiatrists who will review Woodmansee's case and he hopes to have their decision by later this spring.
There is also legislation being drafted to change the early release statute in Rhode Island so it would not cover killers like Michael Woodmansee.