DA: Hofland’s self-defense ‘painful’ to hear

Posted Jan. 11, 2011, at 2:54 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — Randall Hofland, who is defending himself against multiple charges that include taking elementary school students hostage, has a way with words.

A confusing way.

During the third afternoon of his criminal trial Tuesday in Waldo County Superior Court, Hofland, 57, spent about two hours cross-examining the former police officer whom he is accused of threatening with a handgun during a routine traffic stop more than two years ago.

He wanted to know how much former officer Jessica Danielson had earned per hour during the routine seat belt check on Oct. 23, 2008; how loudly she was yelling at him to turn off his Subaru’s high beams; and whether her Maglite flashlight was designed for use as a weapon.

The broad nature of his questioning led Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau at times to wonder aloud exactly where Hofland was heading with his defense.

“In my opinion, he is an Energizer bunny of a cross-examiner,” Rushlau said to Justice Jeffrey Hjelm after a midmorning recess. “It truly is painful to listen to.”

Ellsworth attorney Jeffrey Toothaker has been serving as Hofland’s court-appointed standby counsel and provides help on request to the defendant, who has been deemed competent enough to represent himself.

Hofland conferred only once briefly with Toothaker during Tuesday’s proceedings, which were devoted to questions about the traffic stop that led to his running off into the woods and eluding police for several days.

The Searsport man faces 41 criminal charges related to that incident and to another one eight days later when he reappeared and allegedly held a classroom of fifth-graders at Stockton Springs Elementary School hostage at gunpoint. No one was injured in either incident.

Despite the district attorney’s plea on Tuesday about Hofland’s lengthy and unorthodox style, Hjelm said he wouldn’t set time limits on Hofland’s cross-examinations, at least not yet.

While Hofland’s morning cross-examination of former Searsport Sgt. Steven Saucier had seemed to suggest that Danielson may have confused Hofland’s silver cell phone for the Glock handgun he’s accused of pointing at her, the defendant didn’t pursue that line of questioning with her in the afternoon.

Earlier on Tuesday, Danielson had described the events of that night, saying she became afraid for her life when she approached a Subaru Forester during the end of the seat belt detail and saw the male driver was both armed and agitated.

As she had put her hand in the car to turn down the high beams, Danielson testified, “I looked down and saw a gun in his hand. It was right against his breastbone, pointed to my chest.”

Rushlau asked if the driver said anything to her at that point.

“‘Get the —- out of my car,’” she recalled, with a voice that suddenly choked up a bit. “My first thought was, ‘This man’s going to kill me.’”

During the afternoon cross-examination, Hofland asked Danielson to go over and over some of the details of their encounter.

“You said you believed you were about to be injured because you saw a gun pointed at you. Did that make you fearful?” Hofland asked her during cross-examination.

“Fear was one of the emotions,” Danielson said, beginning a somewhat odd exchange between the two. “Anger and frustration are some of the emotions I feel now when I think about it.”

“So you weren’t traumatized?” Hofland replied.

“When you had a gun in my chest, yes, I was traumatized,” she said.

Later, he wanted to know her state of mind after “our interactions” that night.

“Let me ask you this again. Were you excited?” Hofland said.

She paused.

“I was in a mindset of needing to perform my job and make sure no one else got hurt that night,” Danielson replied.

“Were you bored?” Hofland asked.

“No, I wasn’t bored,” she said.

A large percentage of Hofland’s questions were objected to by a weary-sounding district attorney. Most of Rushlau’s objections were sustained by Hjelm.

One of Hofland’s points that was allowed to remain on the record involved his cross-examination of Saucier comparing the cell phone to the handgun.

“For somebody who’s not familiar with guns, would they perhaps just mistake [this]?” Hofland asked, holding up the phone. “If you had something in a dark space, and all you saw was a light-colored hand with something dark in it, might you mistake [it]?”

But during Rushlau’s questioning of Danielson, she told the district attorney she was familiar with handguns and recognized that one was being aimed at her.

“I recall yelling ‘gun’ several times,” she said.

When Hofland ended his cross-examination of Danielson, who is no longer a Searsport officer and now lives in Florida, he reserved his right to call her back.

Besides Saucier and Danielson, 43 people are on the witness list, including several fifth-graders.

Court officials informed the jury that court would not be held Wednesday due to an approaching snowstorm.

Hofland, who will be held in Belfast’s 72-hour holding facility for as much of the trial as possible, was going to be transferred back to Somerset County Jail in Madison on Tuesday night, a jail official said.

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