Brother, sister of victim in 30-year-old Niles murder speak at killer’s sentencing

Published 11:54 am Monday, April 25, 2022

NILES – It was an emotional morning Monday in a packed Berrien County Trial Court courtroom as 67-year-old Patrick Wayne Gilham was sentenced for the 1987 cold case murder of Roxanne Wood. Wood’s sister and brother both spoke before the sentencing and described their heartache when their sister was so brutally murdered in her Niles Township home.

Gilham, a South Bend resident, accepted a plea deal in March in which he pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in Wood’s death. Monday, Berrien County Trial Judge Sterling Schrock accepted that plea and sentenced Gilham to the agreed to 23 to 50 years in prison. Gilham must pay $258 in fines and costs and has credit for 63 days served.

Neither Schrock, Assistant Prosecutor Jerry Vigansky nor defense attorney Scott Sanford said much before the sentencing. Both Judge Schrock and Vigansky stated there was nothing more to be said after hearing from Wood’s family.

For his part, Sanford asked that the judge follow the plea agreement.

“He can’t recall the events which is no excuse but he is genuinely remorseful,” Sanford said.

Gilham, who wore headphones to hear the proceedings because of hearing difficulties, was visibly shaken and crying.

“I’m very sorry for what I did. I’m so sorry,” he repeated a number of times. “I hope sometime in the future with God’s help that you can forgive me.”

Wood’s sister, Janet Wood, spoke first. She noted that she and Roxanne married two brothers and she had to deal with all the “horrible rumors” over the years in which her brother-in-law, Terry, was thought by some to be involved in his wife’s death.

“His life was irreparably damaged,” she said.

Janet Wood said the last 35 years has been “the very definition of a nightmare.”

“He killed my sister in the most horrific way,” she said. “It sickens me to think of the terror she felt when she was attacked in the safety of her own home.”

“She was our guide and compass in our life,” she added. “I was 23 and her murder left me completely lost. … She was our bright light on earth and one of the kindest people you would ever meet. All her dreams were shattered by this monster. He gave all of us a life sentence and through the wonders of modern technology he was caught.”

Wood’s brother, Brad Woods, also spoke.

“The date of Feb. 20, 1987, is forever burned into my mind,” he said. “It was the worst day of my life. I was in high school when it happened and I was crushed.”

He described his sister as having a “laugh no one could forget” and “the kindest heart.”

“She was a second mother to me and the glue that held our family together when our parents divorced,” he said. “She was the peacemaker in our lives and she’s gone because this man was released from prison early.”

Woods called Gilham “a monster who never should be able to walk the streets.”

“I’ve struggled through Feb. 20 for 35 years and I’ve devoted much of my life to getting justice for her,” he said. “So many people worked for this day.”

“There are so many accomplishments in my life that I wish she could have seen — my marriage, the birth of my daughters and now my grandchildren,” he added. “I’m so grateful our 89-year-old father is here to this today.”

Woods likened Gilham to a predator who preys on others and attacks at the most unsuspecting times.

“He’s like a coyote who has no real purpose and is hated by all,” he said. “He stalked her and preyed on her when she was in the safety of her own home. He took her chance to grow old and have children.”

He noted that Gilham had hidden in plain sight for all these years and also hid behind the cloak of religion in social media postings.

“People like him seem to find Jesus in prison, but the devil will be the one who greets him when he dies,” he said. “He is a disgrace to God, country, his family and our family.”

Gilham was charged in February with open murder and breaking and entering an occupied dwelling. Open murder carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Breaking and entering an occupied dwelling carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Wood was found murdered in her Niles Township home in the early morning hours of Feb. 20, 1987, by her husband, Terry. The couple had been at a local bowling alley and Roxanne Wood had gone home earlier that her husband. He discovered her body when he arrived home.

The complaint and warrant statement for Gilham stated that investigators “received information from a credible and reliable source” in February 2021 that Gilham should be looked at “as the possible contributing source of the unknown male DNA profile.” Michigan State Police found that Gilham had resided in the Michiana area in 1987 and that his DNA had not been on file.

An “alternate DNA source” for Gilham was obtained on June 3, 2021, in the form of a “publicly discarded cigarette butt.” The cigarette butt was examined by the Michigan State Police Laboratory for comparison to the unknown DNA collected at the Wood crime scene.

The complaint stated that tests conducted showed that Gilham’s DNA matched the DNA collected at the scene “at a rate of 1 in 958.8 trillion.”