BELFAST, Maine — Randall Hofland, who was convicted in January of taking elementary school students hostage at gunpoint, spent more than two hours in court Monday morning in a last-ditch attempt to have the judge hand down a light sentence or none at all.
But Justice Jeffrey Hjelm had other ideas, sentencing the 57-year-old Hofland to 35 years in prison with no probation time allowed for the armed kidnapping and hostage-taking of fifth-graders and others on Oct. 31, 2008, at Stockton Springs Elementary School.
“Mr. Hofland’s approach to these proceedings over the last 28 months is based on the notion that the best defense is a good offense,” Hjelm said during the nearly five-hour sentencing hearing in Waldo County Superior Court. “Mr. Hofland has taken the approach of blaming everyone in sight except for himself. In no way has he expressed any sincere remorse.”
That lack of remorse, refusal to take responsibility for his actions, the young age of his victims, and the fact that the crimes took place in an elementary school were aggravating factors that Hjelm took under consideration as he determined the sentence.
Those aggravating factors were of “monumental weight,” Hjelm said, far outweighing the mitigating factors that Hofland had no prior criminal record and that no one suffered serious physical injury in the events. He then reminded the court of some of the more extreme arguments that the defendant made.
“In his closing arguments, he attempted to draw parallels to his circumstances and the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany and the plight of African Americans in the civil rights movement,” Hjelm said. “Mr. Hofland, throughout this proceeding, has shown absolutely no insight into his conduct or culpability.”
In January, a Waldo County jury convicted the Searsport man of 39 criminal counts of kidnapping, criminal threatening, criminal restraint and burglary associated with the elementary school incident. The same jury then determined that Hofland had not been criminally insane at the time of the crime.
During the hours that Hofland addressed the judge on Monday, he seemed to suggest otherwise.
“It was totally unlike me. A total brain fart,” he said about entering the elementary school in the first place. “It was a very temporary madness, your honor. Very temporary.”
Hofland was shackled at the ankles and wearing his orange prison-issue jumpsuit over a ragged long-sleeved shirt, and in appearance seemed a far cry from the often nattily dressed defendant who acted as his own attorney during his month-long, two-part trial.
Although his attorney of counsel Jeffrey Toothaker of Ellsworth sat next to him at the defendant’s table, Hofland continued to run the show Monday. As two people stood up to read their victim impact statements to the courtroom, Hofland faced away from them and scribbled frantically at a piece of paper while they spoke.
One of the victims who read a statement was Celina Albanese, now 13, who was in the fifth-grade classroom when Hofland broke down the door armed with a 10 mm Glock handgun.
“Mr. Hofland, since Day One, you’ve professed to be smart,” the clear-spoken seventh-grader said in her brief statement before asking him to apologize for the very unsmart thing that he did. “That day is something we’ll remember.”
Another victim who wasn’t in the school at all nevertheless broke down in tears as he described how Hofland had grabbed his fourth-grade son in the cafeteria while looking for kids to use as police protection.
William Dakin said his son, though not injured, was traumatized by the events that day.
“This changed his life forever,” Dakin said, taking long pauses to regain his composure. “They say that time will heal, and he’ll get over it. … He hasn’t forgotten. Some people have, but he hasn’t. I hope that Mr. Hofland will be sentenced to the maximum for holding a gun to those students and their families.”
Speaking just after Albanese and Dakin, Waldo County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said the events of Oct. 31, 2008, affected many people in many ways.
“The impact of his crime was enormous. It destroyed that sense of security,” the district attorney said. “And he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong, really. He believes in his heart he did what he had to do.”
Rushlau also said he didn’t believe Hofland would be a good candidate for probationary time.
“He has made it clear that he believes he should set the rules in his life, and nobody else,” the attorney said.
When it was Hofland’s chance to once again take the podium and talk about that day, he was enthusiastic, almost immediately bringing up the federal watch list he believes his name is on and his belief that he is the victim of a vast conspiracy.
“I’m one of those squeaky wheels,” he told the courtroom. “I’m that nail that can’t get hammered down, because I just keep popping up again.”
During his two-hour-plus monologue, Hofland revisited many of the themes from his criminal trial and added a couple of new twists. He told the court again that many of his troubles stem from his divorce, during which his ex-wife received custody of his children. He said that family court is corrupt and that the system is riddled with what he calls lies and fraud, and added that he knew right away that several of the fifth-graders were suffering from issues with their own families.
“My children were stolen from me. That’s what this is all about. It’s about parents and children,” Hofland said.
The only time he showed any signs of emotion during the hearing occurred when he talked about the novel “The Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini, which he said discussed the sin of theft at great length. A lie is a form of theft, Hofland said.
“I would like people to stop the lying. I know what it’s like to suffer the effect of somebody’s lies,” he said, his voice choking with emotion.
“Oh please,” someone muttered from the audience.
“I know what it’s like to be emotionally raped, to be legally raped in the courtroom,” Hofland said.
He did take a few minutes to briefly address the two people who read their impact statements to the court.
“Celina Albanese has said the case is over. Well, she’s wrong. I’m sorry to say that it’s far from over,” he said, referring to his plans to appeal the convictions.
He also, as requested, apologized.
“I’m terribly sorry that I even thought to do that,” he said, apparently referring to his choice to enter the school.
Then he turned around to look for Albanese in the crowded courtroom. “Are you still here, Celina? I want her to know that a lot of what she heard wasn’t the truth. I want her to know that I didn’t want anybody to get hurt.”
Hofland told the court that if he hadn’t been in jail the last two years he would likely have been working on a couple big projects — a prophylactic agent to help prevent type 1 diabetes after he got a manufacturing facility rolling in Searsport.
“I had plans, your honor,” he said, to a few audible snickers of disbelief from the gallery. “The world would be a vastly different place today, because I was working for a better world.”
Then he changed tack, telling the justice that fraud had been perpetuated at court and that Hjelm had the opportunity to suspend sentencing and say there had been a mistrial.
After Hofland sat down, the district attorney stood back up.
“The defendant here today, for the last two hours, has talked about himself,” Rushlau said to the court. “His entire focus has been on himself. Even when he tries to apologize and express remorse for his actions, he can’t even finish his sentence before swerving back to himself.”
Justice Hjelm spoke rapidly and precisely while explaining the sentencing guidelines. He had agreed to a request to merge some of the charges, so that Hofland would be sentenced for 11 counts of kidnapping instead of 22. He said that he decided consecutive sentences would be appropriate for two categories of crimes: the set that occurred in the school cafeteria and the set that took place in the fifth-grade classroom.
Hjelm found that Hofland should serve five years in prison for the four counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon that took place in the cafeteria against school bus driver Glen Larrabee, physical education teacher Daniel Campbell and a student.
The justice then went over the remaining counts, regarding the burglary of a classroom, the criminal restraint with a dangerous weapon and the kidnapping of the students. He said that all kidnapping charges would be Class A convictions, even those of the students who successfully left the classroom while Hofland was inside.
“For students, particularly younger ones, the classroom is a place of safety and security,” Hjelm said. “The classroom is really a sanctuary. And the teacher of that classroom is the parent authority.”
He reminded the court that Hofland had used “brute force” to gain entrance to the classroom, then made teacher Carolyn Russell leave against her will.
“The only adult in the room is a man who had been out in the woods for a week,” Hjelm said. “Dirty, disheveled, wearing torn clothes, looking every bit the outlaw.”
The base sentence for the kidnapping and other charges from the classroom, which would be served concurrently, was 20 years, Hjelm said. That number was increased to 30 due to the aggravating factors of the crimes.
“In my view, it wasn’t Mr. Hofland who was playing the role of the adult. It was the children who were acting the role of the adult,” the justice said.
He said that while the “universe of victims” began with the fifth-graders, it expanded to include other students, teachers, staff, parents and the police officers who had to determine whether or not to use deadly force in front of children.
“Mr. Hofland traumatized an entire school community,” Hjelm said. “The traumatic effects continue to this day … the trauma experienced by students was deep and profound.”
After his explanation of the 35-year sentence with no probation, the justice asked Hofland if he understood.
“Well,” Hofland began.
“Do you understand?” Hjelm interrupted, asking again.
“I think so,” Hofland replied.
“Do you understand your sentence, Mr. Hofland?” Hjelm repeated.
“Um. I guess. Yes,” Hofland finally answered.
He indicated his intention to file appeals of the criminal conviction and also the sentence.
Outside of the courtroom, Celina Albanese and her mother, Donna, were all smiles.
“It’s reasonable,” the Stockton Springs Middle School student, who plans a career in law enforcement, said of the sentence.
Her mom said the family is proud of Celina.
“I think she’s a very strong young lady,” she said.
While Donna Albanese said she understood how Hofland needed his day in court, his actions of Oct. 31, 2008, made it difficult to be a parent of a Stockton Springs Elementary School fifth-grader.
“That day was very hard,” she said.