By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Xtera Communications employees and McKinney police declined to be interviewed for this story. The Allen Police Department didn't respond to interview requests, and the Collin County Sheriff's Office would not comment on the specifics of Wooley's incarceration. The Dallas Observer, however, has obtained their versions of events from more than 1,500 pages of depositions, court filings and police reports. Each entity maintains it was only doing its job: The McKinney police were following every possible lead, including the possibility that the murder was committed by a deranged sniper who might kill again. Xtera Communications was taking every precaution to protect its employees from a disgruntled co-worker. The Collin County Sheriff's Office was simply trying to protect an unstable prisoner from himself.
In December 2002, Wooley filed a lawsuit accusing Xtera of defamation and providing the police with "false, misleading and inaccurate information" that led to his wrongful arrest. Xtera denied the allegations. The McKinney police, argues attorney Lynch, manipulated that information, using it to build a weak case based more on character assassination than hard evidence.
Aside from asserting his constitutional rights, being emotionally distraught and having the worst possible damn luck, Paul Wooley did only one thing wrong: He picked the wrong day to quit his job.
It took Wooley only about 10 minutes to regret quitting. He had no prospects, no real money, and the high-tech bubble had already burst, so finding a new job would be hell. After leaving Xtera, he drove directly to his house in McKinney, where he tried to boot up his computer and search his e-mail list for job contacts. When the thing froze on him, Wooley lost it, kicking his computer to death.
His quick temper and brusque manner always seemed to cause him problems. For a big guy, he was all bluster, 260 pounds of it, but scratch the surface and there was a generous man who could go overboard with gifts on Christmas and birthdays and offer you a hand up without even being asked. Some people just didn't get him, though, not when he would pop off the way he did. "But there wasn't a bit of violence in him," says his mother, Doris Dees, except toward a few inanimate objects that got in his way.
Killing his computer made him realize that he needed to take an extended vacation. Giving little thought to what he packed, he grabbed clothes, camping gear, guns and ammunition. In a journal reconstructing the events of the week, he would write, "I did have a notion that I would go to a wilderness area and live on my wits for a few weeks, just to decompress."
He withdrew $5,000 from his credit union and refilled his heart-medication prescription. He phoned his mother, who says he sounded despondent and "threatened to drive to Colorado to end it all." This wasn't the first time he had phoned her threatening suicide, which seemed more of a play to make her feel guilty than anything serious.
Theirs was a difficult relationship. Wooley had been a rebellious son, bucking authority and quitting high school before graduating. His father was an unforgiving disciplinarian and never made things easy for Paul, who in turn never made things easy for himself. Because his mother was more interested in keeping the peace than provoking her husband, Wooley felt he never had his mother's love. "None of us thought he was ever serious about harming himself," says his sister Mary Cook. "The suicide threats were just his way of retaliating against Mom for feeling unloved."
Yet after his phone call, Wooley's mother phoned the McKinney police and asked them to check on him. A squad car was dispatched to his house at 12:47 p.m., but no one was home.
Even among work associates, Wooley would talk about suicide, although his interest seemed pitched more toward the philosophical than the personal. When he was depressed, which was often, he would tell friends about his empty life; he lived alone, had no children, no wife (he had divorced the same woman twice). At work, Wooley could be brutally honest, displaying emotions that seemed as big as he was.
During the World Trade Center bombings, everyone at Xtera sat glued to the big-screen TV in the "family room," horrified and saddened by the replayed images. Wooley seemed to fixate on the tragedy and became personally distraught over the loss of life. "He would think about it for hours," recalls Marvin Morris, his closest friend at Xtera. "He made me think about how those people on the airplanes must have felt."
Like many Americans who felt insecure after 9-11, he purchased guns to protect himself: a Glock .40-caliber handgun and a Bushmaster .223 rifle. A few times he brought the handgun to a local gun range for target practice. A friend who accompanied him said he was a terrible shot.
Like others, Wooley also bought food--beans and bottled water mostly--and placed them in a bedroom closet where he could retreat, he told co-workers, in case of a chemical or biological attack. Some thought he was paranoid, but Wooley said he was just listening to the warnings of government officials.