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Johnston County Man Convicted Of First-Degree Murder

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SMITHFIELD — A man with a history of drunk driving arrests has been convicted of first degree murder in Johnston County.

Elbert Woodard was leading law officers on a high-speed chase on November 22, 1998 when he plowed into a car killing the driver, 18-year-old Victor Illas.

The verdict came in about a half hour on Friday, bringing relief to the Illas family, which had a hard time weathering the five-day trial.

"It's like reliving the death of my son every single day," said Petra Illas, Victor's mother.

The first-degree murder conviction, and life without parole sentence for Woodard, 39, made it all worthwhile for the Illas family. Woodard sat motionless as he listened to the the verdict.

His wife, Vicky, feels the sentence was too harsh.

"Regardless of whether you took someone's life, even though, if my husband did take someone's life, it was unfair," Vicky said. "It's not for a human to judge."

District Attorney Tom Lock says Woodard deserved the ultimate punishment for death by an intoxicated driver. He also believes the conviction will be upheld on appeal.

"In addition to the underlying felony of assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury in this case, we also have the felony of operating a motor vehicle in an effort to elude arrest," Lock said.

Petra Illas says at least, she has closure.

"I know that my son is dead, but a lot of other lives can be saved having this man locked up," she said.

This is just the fourth drunk driving case in the nation where prosecutors sought a first-degree murder conviction -- the third in North Carolina alone.

One conviction in Forsyth County was upheld on appeal. A conviction againstTimothy Blackwellin Durham was dismissed on Monday.

In this case, Woodard plans to appeal.


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