Orville Lee Wollard typifies what it means to be an American. He has spent his life bettering himself to get ahead – and for his family. After receiving an Associate’s degree he moved on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Business and then a Master’s degree in Business Management and Organizational Behavior, all the while working full time and attending night school. He has been employed as everything from a computer technician with the Home Shopping Network to manager of a photo processing lab to human resources specialist at Sea World. In all of his positions, Orville was quickly promoted because of his strong work ethic.
In 2008, 53-year-old Orville was living happily with his wife, Sandy, and their two teenage daughters in Davenport, Florida where he was working full time at Sea World. That year, Orville’s wife was diagnosed with serious heart problems that required immediate attention and significant care. Their youngest daughter reacted by acting out, using drugs and dating an older boy who was known for his violent outbursts, and reputation for lying and manipulation. Nevertheless, recognizing the boy’s tough childhood, the Wollard family offered him a place to stay in their home, calling it “the Christian thing to do.” Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before he began to abuse Orville’s daughter, punching and yelling at her, and stealing prescription pills, jewelry and money from the family’s home. Orville did his best to try to help his daughter while caring for his wife and maintaining his job. He called the police repeatedly when his daughter disappeared for days at a time with her boyfriend.
On May 14, 2008, Orville received a panicked call at work from his wife, who reported that his daughter’s boyfriend was at their house causing trouble. He hurried home, where he found the boy on the porch and his daughter with a black eye. When Orville told him to leave, the boyfriend attacked him, ripping out stitches from Orville’s recent arm surgery, and then ran off with Orville’s daughter. The two returned several hours later and the boy began shoving Orville’s daughter around the Wollards’ home. She cried as Sandy and the eldest daughter screamed for Orville to help.
Scared for his family’s safety, Orville felt helpless. Having had previous encounters with the boyfriend, Wollard knew he “was at a distinct disadvantage.” He knew there was no way he could physically remove the boy from his home, so Orville took his legally owned handgun and confronted the boy in the living room, asking him to leave. Instead of leaving, the boy punched a hole in the wall, smiled at Orville and began moving toward him. At that point, Orville thought, “It was either shoot him, or fire a warning shot, but I couldn’t let him have the gun. I had no choice.” Orville, who had firearms training as a former member of the auxiliary police force, shot a bullet into the wall next to the boyfriend. No one was hurt and the boy finally left.
Neither the boy nor Wollard’s daughter called the police on the night of the incident. Several weeks later, after Wollard and his wife told their daughter they were putting her in a drug rehabilitation facility, the boyfriend called the police and said Orville had fired a gun at him. A neighbor overheard the boyfriend say to Orville’s daughter, “We’re going to put your dad away forever.” Orville was arrested and charged with “shooting a missile into a dwelling” and “aggravated assault with a firearm.”
Orville spent a year in county jail on a $285,000 bond. Believing he was within his rights to defend his family with a legal firearm, Orville rejected a plea deal for five years of probation and pled not guilty to the charges. At trial, Orville was not allowed to bring up the many problems his family had experienced with the boyfriend; he was only permitted to say the boy was “no longer welcome” at his home. The jury rejected Orville’s self-defense claim and found him guilty of aggravated assault with a firearm.
The officer who prepared Orville’s sentencing score sheet begged the government to recognize the extenuating circumstances of the case. Additionally, the investigating officer stated that he believed Orville’s daughter and the boyfriend had used this incident solely to get back at Orville for trying to keep them apart. Unfortunately, because of Florida’s “10-20-Life” gun law, Judge Donald Jacobsen had no choice after the jury’s guilty verdict but to sentence Orville to a mandatory minimum 20-year prison sentence. Judge Jacobsen said:
This [sentence] is obviously excessive…if it weren’t for the mandatory minimum…I would use my discretion and impose some separate sentence, having taken into consideration the circumstances of the event, but I think I am duty-bound to apply the law as it has been enacted by the legislature.
After Orville’s incarceration, the Wollard family split up. Sandy and Orville’s younger daughter were forced to move in with relatives in Wisconsin after their home went into foreclosure. He has not seen them once since his imprisonment in 2008. In an interview with a local paper, Sandy said, “I am just crushed. I depended on him for a lot of things. He is my best friend.”
No one thought Orville deserved a 20-year sentence; prosecutors thought probation was sufficient when they offered him a plea deal, and the judge said the sentence was “obviously excessive.” Orville’s daughters and the boyfriend – the victim in the case – have written letters to Governor Rick Scott begging him to overturn Orville’s 20-year sentence. But thanks to Florida’s 10-20-Life mandatory sentencing law, politicians who have never met Orville or heard the facts of his case had already determined his sentence.
On the day of his sentencing, Orville spoke before the Court:
I’m amazed. I’m stunned. I have spent my whole life pursuing education [and] helping the community. Then one day this person…assaults my daughter, he threatens me, I protect myself. No one is injured in this whole thing and I’m going to prison and the drug dealer’s on the street. And again, with all respect to [the Court], I would expect this from the former Soviet Union…not the United States.
Motivated in part based on the injustice of Lee Wollard’s mandatory minimum sentence, the Florida legislature passed HB 89, the “Threatened Use of Force Act,” which is aimed at preventing the imposition of mandatory minimums in cases like Wollard’s. That bill, signed into law earlier this year by Governor Rick Scott, creates a “safety valve” and restores sentencing discretion in cases of aggravated assault with a firearm. Along with those reforms, the legislature urged people like Lee Wollard – who have been sentenced to mandatory minimum prison sentences for threatening the use of force – to apply for executive clemency. Lee Wollard recently submitted a petition for clemency and is waiting to see whether Florida’s Clemency Board will put his case on an agenda. The next Clemency Board meeting is December 10, 2014.
Watch the 2014 CBS Sunday Morning segment “Mandatory minimum sentencing: Injustice served?” which features Wollard’s story.
The Facts: Orville Lee Wollard
Sentence: 20 years
Offense: Aggravated assault with a weapon without intent to kill; shooting into a dwelling; child abuse without great harm
Priors: DUI (1980)
Year sentenced: 2009
Age at sentencing: 53
Projected release date: July 13, 2028