Jury selection starts in trial of man accused of taking students hostage

Randall Hofland (left), 55, of Searsport is led into Belfast District Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday. After evading police for a week in connection to brandishing a firearm during a traffic stop, Hofland allegedly took 11 fifth-grade students hostage at Stockton Springs Elementary School on Friday, before he was tackled by police and taken into custody. Buy Photo
BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KATE COLLINS
Randall Hofland (left), 55, of Searsport is led into Belfast District Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday. After evading police for a week in connection to brandishing a firearm during a traffic stop, Hofland allegedly took 11 fifth-grade students hostage at Stockton Springs Elementary School on Friday, before he was tackled by police and taken into custody. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 06, 2011, at 2:41 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:31 a.m.
Randall Hofland (right) is escorted to Belfast District Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday. Hofland was in court to answer charges      stemming rom his arrest last week at Stockton Sp[rings Elementary School, where he allegedly brandished a handgun and held 11 fifth-graders hostage.  (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT)

CAPTION

Randall Hofland, right, is escorted to Belfast Disctrict Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday, November, 3, 2008.  Hofland was in court to answer charges stemming from his arrest last week at Stockton Springs Elementary School where he allegedly brandished a handgun and held 11 fifth-graders hostage.(Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
Randall Hofland (right) is escorted to Belfast District Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday. Hofland was in court to answer charges stemming rom his arrest last week at Stockton Sp[rings Elementary School, where he allegedly brandished a handgun and held 11 fifth-graders hostage. (BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KEVIN BENNETT) CAPTION Randall Hofland, right, is escorted to Belfast Disctrict Court by Waldo County Jail Administrator Jason Trundy on Monday, November, 3, 2008. Hofland was in court to answer charges stemming from his arrest last week at Stockton Springs Elementary School where he allegedly brandished a handgun and held 11 fifth-graders hostage.(Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

BELFAST, Maine — Jury selection began Thursday for the trial of Randall Hofland, who is accused of taking elementary school students hostage two years ago in Stockton Springs.

Opening arguments for the trial of Randall Hofland, 57, likely will begin Friday afternoon or Monday, according to an official at Waldo County Superior Court.

About 250 potential jurors, about double the usual amount, were called for jury duty, Waldo County Deputy District Attorney Eric Walker said earlier this week, in part because of the publicity surrounding the case.

“Everyone’s hopeful,” he said, regarding getting the jury selected and the trial begun.

Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said last spring that he originally had hoped to have the trial in January 2010, but the process has taken much longer than is normal.

“I’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” Rushlau said last April about the Hofland case referring to Hofland representing himself and the dozens of handwritten motions the defendant has filed. Hofland is being assisted in his defense by Ellsworth attorney Jeffrey Toothaker.

Hofland was indicted on 22 counts of kidnapping, 12 counts of criminal restraint with a dangerous weapon, six counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon and one count of burglary after the Oct. 31, 2008, hostage incident at Stockton Springs Elementary School.

None of the 11 students held hostage was physically injured during the half-hour-long incident, which ended after Hofland handed his 10 mm handgun to a male pupil. Police tackled Hofland as he left the classroom and stepped into the hallway.

At the time that he entered the school with a gun, Hofland already had been the subject of a week-long police manhunt that began after he allegedly brandished a handgun at a Searsport police officer during a routine safety check on Oct. 23 and then fled into nearby woods. That night, Hofland called the Waldo County Communications Center and allegedly told a dispatcher there would be “war” unless the police backed off.

On Thursday, about 100 potential jurors sat on the wooden benches of the courthouse in the morning and answered questions from Justice Jeffrey Hjelm about their ability to participate in the trial. Another batch of 100 potential jurors filled the seats again in the afternoon.

They listened to the justice explain the duties of a juror as Hofland and Toothaker both busily took notes at their table.

Hofland was not dressed in the orange jumpsuit that he must wear when in prison, which is where he must be when not in court. During the proceedings on Thursday, he was wearing a dress shirt and dress pants.

“By Maine standards, it’s a longer-than-average trial,” Hjelm said.

The trial likely will go through next week and possibly into the week after that as well, he said.

Potential witnesses who will be called to testify include children from the classroom, school staff and law enforcement officers, according to Happy Kearns, a victim witness advocate at the Waldo County Courthouse.

“There are a lot of people,” she said Thursday afternoon.

During an April hearing on a motion to suppress, Hofland told Hjelm that he has been misunderstood.

“I’m not the monster they’ve tried to paint,” he said, adding that he expects the dismissal of all charges during the trial. “If anything, I was the protector of those children. You might be surprised.”

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