Key figure in sex ring silent about missing victim
Jan. 16, 2015
BAY MINETTE, Ala. (AP) — A woman sentenced to 219 years in prison after being convicted as part of a group of relatives and friends who sexually abused children for years isn't saying whether she knows anything about the whereabouts of a victim whose disappearance helped break open the case.
Wendy Holland, 35, has repeatedly refused to discuss the May 2012 disappearance of 19-year-old Brittney Wood, a prosecutor said. She again refused before being sentenced to what amounts to a life term on charges including sex abuse on Thursday.
The refusal frustrates both family members and authorities trying to find Wood, who is Holland's niece. Holland and 10 other relatives and friends were arrested on multiple sex charges after the teen vanished.
Wood was last seen with Holland's husband, Donnie Holland, who was found with a gunshot to the head and died in what was ruled a suicide days after Wood disappeared.
Wendy Holland and another defendant, Jennifer Moore, reported finding the man in his vehicle on an isolated road after he had been shot. Brittney Wood's handgun and cellphone battery were found in the vehicle but there was no other sign of her. She has never been found and is presumed dead.
Wood's stepmother, Stephanie Hanke, believes Holland is the key to figuring out what happened to the teen.
"We know she knows where Brittney is," Hanke said after the sentencing.
Holland's lawyer, Mitzi Johnson-Theodoro, would not say whether her client knows anything about what happened to Wood. She also declined comment on whether authorities made any offers of a lighter sentence in exchange for information about the teen, as sometimes happens during investigations.
"Any sort of settlement talks would be privileged information," she said.
But prosecutor Teresa Heinz said authorities approached Johnson-Theodoro last week to see if Holland "wanted to talk" about what happened to Wood.
"That offer was declined," Heinz said. The woman also has previously declined to discuss Wood's disappearance, Heinz said, including before her trial last month.
None of the other 10 people charged in the case has provided information to help find the teen, Heinz said, but authorities hope the severe sentence imposed on Holland will help shake loose clues.
"I still feel like there is more information out there that is to be had," she said.
Two of Wood's uncles and an older brother already pleaded guilty to sex charges before juries convicted Wendy Holland and William Brownlee, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison Thursday.
Sentencing is scheduled next month for the uncles, Dustin Kent and Randall Scott Wood.
Brittney Wood's cousin, Wendy Holland's son Donald Paul Holland Jr., was granted youthful offender status and led away in handcuffs after a closed-door hearing Thursday. He was charged with crimes including incest.
Others await trial, including Brittney Wood's mother, Chessie Wood. The woman says she is innocent of charges alleging she had sex with a young female relative.