Defense opens its case in alleged Stockton Springs school hostage taking

Attorney Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, who is acting as standby counsel for accused school hostage-taker Randall Hofland, made the opening argument for the defense at Waldo County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Attorney Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth, who is acting as standby counsel for accused school hostage-taker Randall Hofland, made the opening argument for the defense at Waldo County Superior Court on Tuesday.
Posted Jan. 25, 2011, at 8:38 p.m.

BELFAST, Maine — More than two weeks after Randall Hofland’s criminal trial began in Waldo County Superior Court, the defense finally made its opening arguments to the jury Tuesday morning.

Hofland — who is defending himself against 41 charges related to his allegedly taking 11 children hostage at gunpoint at Stockton Springs Elementary School and also of threatening a police officer at a traffic stop two years ago — started the day by asking Justice Jeffrey Hjelm a favor.

He wanted to know whether he and his standby counsel, Jeffrey Toothaker, could each make opening statements in the case. But the justice put his foot down and limited the defense to one opening argument.

So Toothaker took the podium, giving a succinct message to the jury that focused on the definition of kidnapping and criminal restraint. Together, those count for 33 of Hofland’s criminal charges.

“Let me tell you what kidnapping isn’t. Let me tell you what it is,” the Ellsworth attorney said.

The Lindbergh baby case was a “classic kidnapping,” he said, referring to the kidnapping in 1932 of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr., 20-month-old son of the famous aviator and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. A ransom note had been left on the windowsill of the nursery from where the child was taken.

But Toothaker stressed that when Hofland went into the fifth-grade classroom armed with a gun on Oct. 31, 2008, that act did not fit the definition of kidnapping or criminal restraint.

“That’s not what happened in this case,” Toothaker said.

According to testimony heard earlier in the trial from students, Hofland did not force anyone to stay in the room, let several children leave and attempted to engage the class in conversation, Toothaker argued.

“Ten minutes of, ‘Hi, how are you, is that a real gun?’ that’s not a restriction,” the attorney said.

Although the attorney did not discuss why the event had happened in the first place, he told the jurors that it was their responsibility to find all the legal elements when they deliberate Hofland’s innocence or guilt on all of the charges. He said that they would have to consider the credibility of each witness’s testimony and take into consideration the fact that everybody saw “something different at that school.”

“There are all these charges, but you’re really considering one thing — his intent,” Toothaker said. “Your job is to compare and contrast what people say. This is what juries do. They decide facts.”

The attorney also acknowledged how long the jurors have had to sit through and pay attention to testimony during the already longer-than-usual duration.

“Thank you. I know it’s been a hardship on everybody. I know, believe me,” Toothaker said.

At the end of his opening argument, he told the jurors that he hoped he had clarified matters for them.

“Maybe we should have done this earlier,” he said.

But as soon as the opening argument was over, Hofland took over again, acting as his own lead counsel during examination of the witnesses he called.

First, he called to the stand two people who were working at the Waldo County Regional Communications Center in 2008.

Hofland asked dispatch director Owen Smith a somewhat confusing series of questions about why it took so long to obtain discovery evidence such as recordings of dispatch calls from the agency.

Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau objected to most of the questions.

“What is the relevance of any of this?” the district attorney asked.

“Well, Your Honor, I haven’t received all the discovery I requested and you ordered,” Hofland told Hjelm.

The justice allowed the questions to continue.

During the midmorning break when the jury had left the courtroom, Hofland asked Hjelm for permission to play several of the dispatch recordings for the jury. He said that he felt that they would help the jury better understand the “conspiracy” against him.

The alleged conspiracy involves Capt. George Perkins, Hofland said. Hofland had lived at the retired sea captain’s Stockton Springs home for several years and has been accused of stealing heirlooms and money from Perkins when the captain was ill.

But Hjelm said that he has worked hard to keep Perkins’ name out of this trial, which is dealing only with the events of the routine police traffic stop on Oct. 23, 2008, and the alleged school hostage taking eight days later.

“It wasn’t all just coincidental,” Hofland said. “There is an extreme amount of prejudice that was introduced behind the scenes. [The jury] deserves to know that what they’ve heard in public and what they’ve heard in the courtroom is not nearly the entire picture. They should know. They deserve to know.”

Hofland was allowed to play two of the dispatch center recordings during his examination of the next witness, Katie Dakin, a dispatcher at the center. He said the recordings would help the jury understand why former Searsport police Officer Jessica Danielson was so certain Hofland had threatened her with a Glock handgun after she stopped his car. During his cross-examination of Danielson two weeks ago, Hofland suggested that she mistook his cell phone or his MP3 player for a handgun.

On Tuesday, the jury heard Dakin in a telephone conversation with Belfast private detective Gary Boynton, who spent much of 2008 trying to recover Perkins’ property. The conversation apparently occurred after Hofland allegedly threatened Danielson.

“He thinks he’s hot s—,” Boynton said to Dakin, apparently about Hofland. “He thinks he’s a Philadelphia lawyer. He thinks he’s smarter than anybody else … He’s been known to carry a Glock.”

After testimony was over Tuesday, Hjelm told the jurors that the end of the trial was in sight. On Wednesday, Hofland is expected to give his own testimony. He also intended to use subpoenas to bring two more children to the witness stand.

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