By Cathy Taylor
Blake Hullihen, 27, of Harrison, stood in silence as a jury of eight men and six women delivered a guilty verdict for the murders of Gabrielle Woodworth and Donald Feneis.
Hullihen was found guilty Monday in Osceola County’s 49th Circuit Court of two counts of second degree murder along with two counts of felony firearm charges relating to the December, 2011 shootings of the Sears couple.
The shootings occurred outside of Chuck’s Corners Citgo station located at the intersection of M-66 and M-115 approximately 5 miles south of Marion. Hullihen and his victims used this location as a custody exchange point for their young daughter who was six years old at the time.
Hullihen was the sole witness called to the stand by the Prosecution during Monday’s deliberations. He related to the courtroom that he was “shocked and devastated” by a recent court order that awarded Woodworth primary custody of their child. Hullihen testified that the child became hysterical when she was told she must live with her mother, claiming he had raised her most of his life.
The child’s mother demanded that she be returned to her care. When Hullihen arrived at the place of exchange without her, an alleged argument ensued. According to Hullihen, Woodworth and Feneis came toward him in what he perceived to be an attack. He testified that Feneis pulled something from his pocket as he approached him. Hullihen said that because the parking lot was dimly lit, he thought he had pulled out a weapon. The object was later identified as a cell phone.
At that time, Hullihen began shooting. He shot his victims a total of 17 times, unloading two magazines before fleeing the scene. He drove to his parent’s home in Harrison where, after confessing to his father, he was taken to Clare County Sheriff John Wilson’s home. He was later transported to Osceola County where he was formally arrested for the murders.
Previously during the day’s testimony, Hullihen admitted he regularly carried his weapon, a .45 caliber pistol, with him and wore a bullet-proof vest to the exchanges with Woodworth and Feneis. He claimed that he feared for his safety because Feneis’ family regularly threatened his life. Hullihen possessed a concealed weapons permit for the firearm.
In closing statements, Hullihen’s attorney Dennis Duvall told the jury that the unfortunate events that transpired the evening of December 7, 2011 had not been the result of a premeditated plan to murder but instead stemmed from a belief that his life was in danger in the moments leading up to the shootings. He asked the jury to keep in mind all of the threats and verbal abuse his client had endured over the last several years as well as the fear that seized him when he honestly believed he was about to be shot.
State’s Prosecutor Andy DePres denounced Duvall’s statements. He called the incident a “cold-blooded murder…. a planned execution of two people” because there had been no witness testimony during the trial that indicated an argument had taken place between Hullihen, Woodworth and Feneis.
DePres added, “Basically, this was over a custody battle and one of them won. She won, and it was too much for him. Sometimes things are what they appear to be.”
DePres asked the jury to consider a conviction of first-degree premeditated murder for the deaths of Woodworth and Feneis. After deliberating well into the evening hours, the jury returned with a verdict of second-degree murder for each death as well as two counts of felony firearms charges. A date has not been set for Hullihen’s sentencing.