FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — One of the biggest South Florida criminal court cases of the last decade has been quietly reopened — the DUI manslaughter conviction of polo club founder John Goodman.
And it’s partly over vomit, of all things.
The multimillionaire, who is serving a 16-year state prison sentence, claims there is new proof he threw up from chugging liquor after the Feb. 12, 2010, crash in Wellington, helping substantiate his account of that night.
It’s a return to Goodman’s “man cave” defense — that his elevated blood alcohol level was from drinking at a private bar he stumbled upon while looking for a phone to call 911.
A polo player who owned the place — actually an office inside a barn — recently disclosed that he found vomit on the premises hours after Goodman says he drank straight from a bottle to sooth pain from his injuries.
Goodman is asking a Palm Beach County criminal court judge to hold a hearing to examine these and other new claims, and “grant all relief to which he may be entitled.” Prosecutors will have a chance to respond and argue for the case to be closed again.
It’s been six years since Goodman was found guilty of killing a young man while driving drunk and walking away from the crash without trying to help.
An heir to a Texas heating and air conditioning fortune, Goodman has lost challenges in the Florida appellate courts and he failed to get the U.S. Supreme Court to review his case.
Then, 18 months ago, the trial judge denied Goodman’s request to lessen his punishment for the death of Scott Patrick Wilson, 23, a University of Central Florida engineering graduate.
So now Goodman, who turns 57 on Friday, is making one last attempt to set aside his conviction and perhaps get a new trial.
Wilson’s parents, William and Lili, continue to want Goodman to serve every day of his sentence.
“No matter how unremorseful and desperate John Goodman is and appears he will remain, nothing changes the fact that Scott Patrick Wilson is still dead and never coming back to his loving parents,” said Scott Smith, attorney for the father.
Goodman’s legal long shot revolves around arguments that his lawyers messed up his defense so badly that it resulted in the jury convicting him.
He contends he would have been acquitted had his counsel brought in certain witnesses — a toxicologist and a crash reconstruction expert — to back up his testimony. Goodman also accuses his lawyers of failing to properly question Kris Kampsen, owner of the “man cave.”
At the trial, Kampsen was not specifically asked “about his clean-up efforts at the barn on the day following the accident,” wrote attorney Michael Ufferman of Tallahassee. He noted that in a recent interview Kampsen mentioned he “discovered vomit in the barn.”
Had this been relayed to the jury, it “would have confirmed (Goodman’s) version of events that he consumed alcohol after the accident and therefore was not intoxicated at the time of the accident (and had this testimony been presented during the trial, there is a reasonable probability that the result of this proceeding would have been different),” Ufferman wrote.
Questioned by prosecutors during the trial, Kampsen said it didn’t appear that anyone had stopped by that night — there were no discarded bottles on the couch or anything out of place.
Kampsen said he kept his bar stocked with bottles of tequila, vodka and bourbon, and left the door unlocked so his friends could drop by whenever they wanted. Goodman said he had never been there before.
The defense told the jury he was hurting and disoriented from the violent 1 a.m. crash at 120th Avenue and Lake Worth Road.
Goodman’s $250,000 Bentley Continental GTC convertible blew through a stop sign at 63 mph and slammed into Wilson’s Hyundai Sonata, investigators said.
Goodman testified that had he known Wilson’s car had flipped into the dark canal — where the victim drowned — he “would have gone in to help.”
He said he walked to the barn in his search for a phone, guzzled hard liquor and left.
But prosecutors have always said the man cave story is made up. They said Goodman, after his cellphone stopped working, walked directly from the crash site about 100 yards away to a trailer occupied by an equestrian. That’s where he borrowed a phone to first call his girlfriend, and then 911 about an hour after the crash.
Goodman’s blood-alcohol content measured 0.177, or more than twice the 0.08 legal limit to drive, three hours after the crash.
The prosecutors said the test results proved Goodman was impaired before the crash, as a result of drinking that night at three Wellington bars.
The defense insisted Goodman was not intoxicated when driving, and they also slammed the scientific reliability of the blood samples. His lawyers also argued his Bentley malfunctioned, causing or contributing to the crash. But the jury rejected it all.
In his request for “post-conviction relief,” Goodman specifically cited as “ineffective” two members of his trial legal team, attorneys Douglas Duncan and Elizabeth Parker.
Reached by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday, both declined to comment on their former client’s bashing of their work.
Goodman claims his former lawyers should have summoned an expert to reconstruct the crash, which “would have been key in confirming for the jurors that (he) was, in fact, telling them the truth regarding his actions following the accident.”
Goodman also said the defense should have brought in a toxicologist to corroborate his testimony that he wasn’t drunk at the time of the crash and “that he consumed alcohol” in the man cave.
But Goodman’s motion does not mention that his trial defense called in numerous highly-paid experts to testify on his behalf. This included three crash reconstruction specialists and a doctor of neuropharmacology who challenged the conclusions reached by a government toxicologist.
Ufferman, Goodman’s new lawyer, could not be reached despite a message left with his Tallahassee office. He is a past president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Legal experts say these types of post-conviction claims are rarely successful. For one thing, the lawyers who are criticized as ineffective can explain they were using certain trial strategies.
And it’s no secret how Goodman spent millions of dollars on his case and was defended by some of the most respected attorneys in town.
“Based on a combination of who his lawyers were, and the financial wherewithal that he had to defend himself, I would be shocked that he had the basis for an ineffective assistance of counsel claim,” said Gregg Lerman, a veteran West Palm Beach defense lawyer who has followed the case.
“He has nothing to lose by filing it other than the money he’s paying Ufferman,” added Lerman. “Nobody’s setting this verdict aside.”
Goodman is at a prison work camp in Crawfordville, south of Tallahassee, according to the state Department of Corrections. He is scheduled to be released on Aug. 1, 2028.
©2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)