PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - David Goodwin has spent more than half of his life in prison. Now, in less than two week, he'll be able to do something he hasn't done since Jimmy Carter was President: walk as a free man.
Goodwin, 70, was granted parole Wednesday by the Florida Commission on Offender Review. He was serving a life sentence for the deaths of Glenn Hood, 21, Shiela McAdams, 16, and her sister Sandra McAdams, 14. The trio, along with another man, George Sims, 39, were killed after stumbling upon the drug smuggling operation.
But Goodwin maintains to this day he didn't kill anyone and was scared by what he saw when Sims was shot and killed.
Goodwin has at least one local supporter in Rube Waddell, who's written two books on the Sandy Creek murder trials and Goodwin's case.
"I just kind of got obsessed with it, because I was sure something bad was wrong, [but I] didn't know what," said Waddell, in a 2016 interview with WJHG and WECP.
"I built up the idea that this man didn't have the guts to kill anybody," he added. "He was a nice guy."
Goodwin enters this story days before the first Sandy Creek murder. A man named Bobby Joe Vines hired more than a dozen men for an international drug smuggling operation, including Walter Steinhorst, Steve and Tom Lukefahr, and Goodwin.
"He was no different than the other 17 smugglers," Waddell said. "He was to be a gopher."
The night of January 23, 1977, the crew assembled at Sandy Creek in eastern Bay County, ready to receive 35 tons of marijuana from a shrimp boat named "The Gunsmoke." a boat owned by a Bradenton man, Peter van Estrup.
"On the night that they were to do the operation, he (Goodwin) let one of the guys use the van to be an outlook further down," Waddell said. "And that was Steinhorst."
Steinhorst stood guard, armed with a rifle and a pistol. That's when Sims, Hood and the McAdams sisters drove up on the beach, likely stumbling upon the operation by accident.
Steinhorst shot and killed Hood, took the other three captive and put them in Goodwin's van after conferring with others involved in the operation.
That night, smugglers abandoned ship and intentionally sunk the Gunsmoke, with several tons of marijuana still on board.
After boaters spotted the scene a short time later, authorities quickly identified the owner of the boat and connected the plan to Vines.
"He spilled his guts and named everybody, then people started being arrested," Waddell said.
But even when the FBI had the names of all those involved, there were no charges filed.
"The whole case was put aside for almost six months until the bodies were found in a sinkhole out by Perry, and that's when the house of cards began to fall," Waddell said.
It was now clear the Sandy Creek smuggling operation had a much darker timeline. It was then, Waddell said, that authorities realized they were in trouble.
Seventeen smugglers initially faced murder charges. Fourteen of them, including Peter van Estrup, who bought the boat for the operation, Vines, who initiated the operation, and David Capo, who planned the operation, were granted immunity for their testimony against three other men.
First up, a man named Charlie Hughes. who went undercover before authorities caught up with him. After his first trial and a hung jury, Hughes pleaded guilty to three counts of third degree murder. He qualified for parole after serving four-and-a-half years of his three simultaneous 15-year sentences.
A jury convicted Steinhorst of the four murders. He remained on death row for more than 20 years, before he died from medical problems in 1999.
The third man was Goodwin.
Goodwin never pulled a trigger. Goodwin was not armed that night on January 23, 1977.
But only Goodwin remained behind bars serving a life sentence, after a brief stint on death row himself.
"The only thing the prosecutor had going for him now was what he called 'the rope,'" Waddell said.
"He never tied anybody up," Waddell said. "What he did was under duress. The person who got the rope was Bobby Joe Vines and gave it to David and told him to take it down to Steinhorst, which he did."
Waddell says that's when Goodwin realized what he'd gotten himself into.
"So he went back, threw the rope at Steinhorst's feet and said, 'I'm out,'" Waddell said.
But holding on to that rope was a crucial move.
"The prosecutor tried to say that because he had the rope and claimed that he tied those people up, that was aiding and abetting in the kidnapping," Waddell said.
That's the key difference between the prosecution and Goodwin's versions of the "truth," according to Waddell. Prosecutor Leo Jones tried both Steinhorst and Goodwin's cases.
"The Lukefhar brothers had been smuggling and possessing marijuana for years in the Southern U.S., so [Jones] knew they'd be pretty good targets," Waddell said. "Knew they wouldn't mind distorting the truth."
Waddell claims they provided perjured information while testifying. It was considered to grant Goodwin immunity, but Waddell says based on Steinhorst's case, Goodwin would be an easy conviction for Jones.
"He won the case before he ever went to trial," Waddell said.
"After he proved Steinhorst was guilty, he says, 'I got one more case. It's just the same as the Steinhorst case. This guy's guilty,'" Waddell said. "So the prosecutors poisoned the public to the case and poisoned the potential jurors."
Between his co-conspirators' testimony, and that the tied-up victims wound up dead, Goodwin's charges were upped.
"When you do that and other people lose their lives, you're equally charged as the murderer," Waddell said.
A jury found Goodwin guilty of three counts of premeditated murder, although he never killed anyone himself.
The judge sentenced Goodwin to death, despite the jury's recommendation of a life sentence. A death sentence enters an automatic appeals process in the Florida Supreme Court.
Three years after the trial, a judge overturned the death penalty and reduced Goodwin's sentence to life in prison.
Waddell admits Goodwin did commit a crime but says he never deserved what he got, especially when so many others walked free.
"The system is all wrong," Waddell said. "In this case, the prosecutor was ill intent right from the start, and I refer to that as premeditated injustice."
FCOR denied Goodwin's parole in 2015 and 2014. He was granted parole on Wednesday.
His parole date has been set as May 2, 2017. That's 14,431 days since he was arrested for the killings on October 28, 1977.
A lot has changed since October of 1977. "You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone was the number one song in the USA on that date. Gas was 65 cents a gallon. The average cost of a house was $49,000.
That's the last time Goodwin tasted freedom.
Since then, the VCR has come and gone giving way to DVDs, blu-ray and now digital downloads. Movie rental stores like Blockbuster Video and Movie Gallery are a thing of the past. The United States has elected six men as President. The internet has changed the way the world operates and now, all the information you could ever want access to is available on devices that fit in the palm of your hand.
Goodwin will remain in prison until May 2nd. After that, it's unknown where he'll go, to resume a life that's been confined to the same place for almost 40 years.
He didn't kill anyone. He just touched a rope.