BELFAST, Maine — Randall Hofland, who is accused of taking 11 children hostage in 2008, hardly ever ran out of things to talk about during his five hours of testimony over the last two days.
But when Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau began his cross-examination of Hofland late Thursday morning, suddenly the Searsport man’s usual flood of words began to slow to a trickle.
The district attorney asked Hofland if he had heard of Columbine and Virginia Tech, both sites of school massacres. Rushlau wanted to know if the defendant had heard about “shootings at schools,” and Hofland replied that he had.
“You knew the effect of bringing a gun into a school,” Rushlau asked, “Correct?”
Hofland paused in the witness box before giving a quiet, one-word response.
“Yes,” he said.
Hofland, 57, has spent the last three weeks defending himself against 41 charges related in part to his allegedly taking the children hostage at gunpoint at Stockton Springs Elementary School. Some of the charges are connected to an incident that had happened eight days earlier, during which he is accused of threatening a Searsport police officer with a gun during a routine seat belt checkpoint on Route 1.
Waldo County Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm said Thursday that the two parties would give their closing arguments on Friday, when the case is also expected to go to the jurors.
Hofland told jurors Wednesday that during the traffic stop incident he felt personally threatened by police, grabbed his 10 mm Glock handgun and holster and fled into the woods near his box trailer. After an eight-day police manhunt during which he hid in the woods, Hofland said that he intentionally decided to head to the elementary school the morning of Oct. 31 so that he could both peaceably turn himself in to the authorities and “make a splash” while doing so.
“The reason why I went to a school wasn’t because I wanted to hurt anybody,” Hofland said Thursday during his final hours of testimony. “I went there for a higher purpose, I really did.”
That purpose was connected to Hofland’s longtime work with parental rights groups, especially fathers’ rights groups, he told the jury.
During cross-examination, Rushlau — who was working hard to try to keep the loquacious Hofland on topic — asked him if it was his choice to go to an elementary school. Hofland answered that it was.
“Full of little children?” Rushlau asked.
“That was my choice,” Hofland said.
The district attorney asked the defendant if it would have been possible for him to leave the gun and holster outside the school.
“I could have done that,” Hofland replied.
“But instead, you chose to walk into that school with a loaded gun belt with 70 or 75 rounds of ammunition,” Rushlau stated. “That was your choice to surrender peacefully?”
“Yes,” Hofland said.
Rushlau also took some time to question Hofland about the seat belt checkpoint of Oct. 23, 2008. Former Searsport Police Officer Jessica Danielson had testified earlier in the trial that when she approached Hofland’s car that night and asked him to turn off his high beams, he told her to “Get the [expletive] away from the car.” When she reached in to turn off the high beams, Danielson told the jury, she saw that Hofland had a handgun that was pointed at her and she became afraid for her life.
But during his testimony, Hofland denied pointing any weapon at her. He said that his gun had been stored in an Igloo cooler in the back seat and that when Danielson came “charging” up to his car and started yelling, “Gun! Gun! Gun!,” he was afraid that she was going to shoot him. He told the jury that he realized much later that Danielson might have mistaken a cell phone in his hand for a gun.
“Your testimony is that as you had no gun, that was a false statement by the police officer. Yes?” Rushlau asked Hofland Thursday.
“I think I need to elaborate on that,” Hofland said.
But Rushlau did not give him time to elaborate, moving rapidly through a series of questions that seemed designed to poke holes in Hofland’s story.
He suggested that Hofland had enough time to reach back to retrieve his gun from the cooler when he was watching Danielson approach his car during the traffic stop.
“It was possible to do, yes?” Rushlau said.
“Not easy. But possible,” Hofland replied.
Rushlau reminded Hofland that the jury had heard a recording of the 911 call he had made that night after finding officers at his trailer.
“Dispatcher [Christopher] Shedyak said, ‘Do you have a firearm?’ And you said, quote, ‘I was acting in self-defense,’” Rushlau said.
“I believe that’s how it transpired, yes,” Hofland said.
“At the end of the conversation you said, they have started a fight and they can have one now. If they don’t leave there will be war,” Rushlau said.
Hofland did not deny he had said this.
The district attorney also hammered home his point that having a stranger with a gun enter the school had indeed been threatening to the students and school staff. Hofland had said over and over in his testimony that he had not meant to hurt or scare anyone and that reports that children had been terrified were greatly exaggerated. He also has denied holding them hostage.
“In other words, you were using your firearm to threaten [teachers and staff] and get them to stay away from you. That was your purpose,” Rushlau said Thursday.
“Um, I believe it could be construed like that, yes,” Hofland replied.
Rushlau also described how Hofland must have appeared to the children and adults at the school.
“What you looked like was dirty?” Rushlau asked.
“I agree,” Hofland said.
“And holding a gun?”
During Hofland’s chance to respond to the cross-examination, he told the jurors that he had intentionally chosen to go to the school on Halloween to avoid scaring the children, implying that they might have thought he was in costume. He also said he couldn’t believe that Danielson had perceived him as a threat.
But there was one thing he said he would like to have done differently.
“I wish I had shown the kids the gun was unloaded,” Hofland told the jury. “That’s what I really wish.”