Searsport man who took fifth-graders hostage at gunpoint still guilty, Maine Supreme Judicial Court says

Randall Hofland of Searsport briefly talked with the media after opening arguments in his trial at Waldo County Superior Court on Jan. 7, 2011.
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Randall Hofland of Searsport briefly talked with the media after opening arguments in his trial at Waldo County Superior Court on Jan. 7, 2011.
Posted Nov. 20, 2012, at 6:59 p.m.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the conviction of the man who took a classroom of Stockton Springs Elementary School fifth-graders hostage at gunpoint in the fall of 2008.

Randall Hofland, 59, of Searsport is serving consecutive 30- and five-year sentences for charges associated with the Halloween hostage-taking. The high court ruling was on Hofland’s appeal of his January 2011 conviction by a Waldo County jury of 39 criminal counts of kidnapping, criminal threatening, criminal restraint and burglary related to the elementary school incident.

The same jury also determined that Hofland had not been criminally insane at the time of the crime.

“We affirm the judgment of conviction,” states the decision handed down Tuesday by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court justices. “The record demonstrates that the trial judge proceeded with an abundance of caution in all phases of this case.”

Justice Jeffrey Hjelm presided over Hofland’s trial.

The school episode was triggered by an incident that had happened the week before, when Hofland was involved in a police roadblock during which he is alleged to have pulled a gun before speeding off, according to police and court documents. He then spent eight days hiding in the woods, avoiding a police manhunt, before emerging at the elementary school’s gymnasium. There, he used a loaded handgun to try and gather children and bring them into a school bathroom, but was thwarted by school officials and instead forced his way into the fifth-grade classroom.

In Hofland’s appeal of his conviction, written in the Maine State Prison in Warren, he laid out 25 arguments.

“Most of Hofland’s arguments center on a theory that numerous state actors, including this Court, conspired to convict him in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act,” the justices stated in the decision. “These issues are without merit and will not be discussed.”

They did address issues including:

• Whether Hofland was denied his right to a speedy trial.

• Whether he was denied his right to self-representation.

• If the court erred in denying his request for jury instruction on the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

• Whether there was sufficient evidence for the jury to find that Hofland held the children for a “substantial period of time.”

• If the court erred by not dismissing the kidnapping charge because the term “substantial period” was unconstitutionally vague.

• Whether the court properly imposed consecutive sentences.

The judges found that none of Hofland’s claims had merit.

In fact, although it took Hofland’s case more than two years between when he was indicted by a Waldo County Grand Jury and his trial, that was in large part because he filed “well over 100 motions” in that time.

“Hofland was the primary reason for the delay,” the justices wrote in the decision.

They also denied that his right to self-representation was violated because the court refused to allow “hybrid representation,” during which both he and his court-appointed counsel would have had an opportunity to present opening statements, question witnesses and engage in closing arguments.

Hofland took the lead in his defense, with court-appointed attorney Jeffrey Toothaker essentially working for him.

“Hofland’s right to self-representation was not violated because Hofland was allowed to choose trial strategy, cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses and make a closing statement,” the justices wrote. “The fact that he was not allowed to duplicate the arguments and examinations did not deprive him of a constitutional right.”

As far as the question of whether Hofland had kidnapped the children for a substantial period of time, the justices wrote that while the students’ confinement lasted less than 30 minutes, it could be rationally considered a substantial period.

They also found that the jury had been accurately instructed on the elements pertinent to Hofland’s trial.

“Accepting Hofland’s argument that the right to bear arms is an individual rather than collective right …. that right does not constitute a defense to any of the crimes charged,” the decision states.

Finally, as to the question of Hofland’s consecutive sentences, the justices found that Hofland had engaged in two “distinct criminal episodes with two distinct criminal objectives.”

The first took place in the school gymnasium, and resulted in the five-year conviction. The second occurred in the fifth grade classroom, and led to the 30 year sentence being imposed.

“The court … did not act outside its sentencing powers in imposing consecutive sentences,” the justices wrote.

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