Suspect Denied Bail in Berkeley Stabbing Case

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday August 21, 2008 - 09:17:00 AM

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson denied bail on Monday to Berkeley City College student Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, who has been charged with the stabbing death of UC Berkeley senior Chris Wootton. 

The judge turned down Hoeft-Edenfield’s request for bail, saying that the evidence presented in the case had not convinced him that Hoeft-Edenfield had acted in self-defense. 

Nuclear engineering student Wootton, 21, a Sigma Pi fraternity member, was stabbed once in his upper chest, between his ribs, in front of a group of students outside the Chi Omega sorority house on Piedmont Avenue on May 3. 

Hoeft-Edenfield, 20, was arrested later that day. 

Conflicting statements from witnesses present at the murder scene have not yet led to any definite conclusions as to what happened on the night of the fateful incident. 

Hoeft-Edenfield was represented by a private attorney—Yolanda Huang—who took over from Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Tony Cheng last week. 

Huang—an active presence at most of Hoeft-Edenfield’s earlier court proceedings—is a member of the city of Berkeley’s Parks and Recreation Commission and also volunteers at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. 

Hoeft-Edenfield’s mother Ellen—who was accompanied by a small group of people—declined to comment on the case outside a courtroom at the Rene C. Davidson courthouse in Oakland. 

Some of Wootton's friends from UC Berkeley and family members were also present at the hearing. 

Dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit, Hoeft-Edenfield sat next to his attorney until the judge announced that he had finished reading Huang’s request for bail for Hoeft-Edenfield. 

The judge added that he had received 16 separate letters in support of the application for bail.  

He said that although Huang’s summary of the case was concise and persuasive, he would not be able to make a bail determination without consulting the police report. 

“If it was a self-defense case, then I am thinking why was he arrested?” the judge said. 

“The DA’s office charged him with murder and not self-defense.” 

While reading the police report, the judge asked a number of questions of Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Greg Dolge—who will be prosecuting Hoeft-Edenfield – including one about the make of the weapon used on Wootton. 

“Was it [the knife] spring-loaded or could the blade be unfolded?” the judge asked. 

Dolge replied, after consulting the police report, that the weapon was a three-inch pocket knife with a lockable blade. 

Huang emphasized that in one of the statements, a witness described in detail “that only after my [Huang’s] client was surrounded in a semi-circle by a larger group of people he pulled out a knife and my client was using the knife to get people to back off.” 

“I will cut to the chase here since it is a murder case,” Dolge said. 

He said that the incident started off with four guys who were later joined by more people. 

“At some point Hoeft-Edenfield brandished a knife,” he said. 

“Up to that point nobody was armed. Nobody threatened to get a weapon ... Hoeft-Edenfield was the only one with a weapon. [Wootton] calls 911 from his friend’s cell phone before he gets stabbed. He tells the police ‘there are two guys here and one of them has a knife.’ Shortly after that there is physical engagement. Next thing you know the victim has a two and a half inch wound, the knife goes right through the ribs and into the heart ... At the end of the fight there’s only one guy who is dead. Nobody else is hurt except Chris.” 

Dolge said that after the incident Hoeft-Edenfield separated himself from his friends and threw the knife away. 

“He gets a ride to a friend’s place, takes off his bloody clothes and washes,” he said. 

“Then the police take him into custody. Seems to me like a pretty clear-cut case of murder.” 

Hoeft-Edenfield started to say something after Dolge finished talking, but the judge cut him off by saying “it’s a bad time for you to talk.” 

Huang repeated that statements from some witnesses showed that Hoeft-Edenfield was surrounded by a number of people and that he was trying to get them to back off. 

“I don’t know exactly what happened at this point, as it is disputed,” she said. 

“What is not disputed is that a small number of people was surrounded by a large number of people ... It’s an issue of unreasonable force. It wasn’t premeditated. He [Hoeft-Edenfield] had a pocket knife used to open boxes. It was perfectly legal to use it for his job.” 

The judge replied that the primary consideration in the case was public safety. 

“I have to consider the seriousness of the charge,” he said. 

“There is no offense more serious than murder. The alleged injury is death. There is no injury greater than that. After a cursory reading of this case, it appears to me that a good number of people, either participants or witnesses, were involved.”  

The initial fight had started with five or six people, the judge said, and went on to read the names of six or seven witnesses who had described the defendant as “aggressive” and the person “who first introduced a weapon into the fight before a large group of people got involved” in their statements. 

“Then I reviewed a summary of the statement the defendant gave the police,” the judge said. 

“There are three different versions which are not consistent. The first was total denial ... The police overheard [Hoeft-Edenfield] on the cell phone denying any involvement. When the police presented him with evidence, the story changes and he said it was an accidental stabbing. The third version was self- defense. If I take the different versions, that by itself would support conviction for murder rather than self-defense. The fact that he separated himself from his associates, threw the knife away and washed the blood off, these are further things that would add to it. I am not convinced this is a self-defense case. There is substantial proof in the police report that this was a case of murder.” 

The date for Hoeft-Edenfield’s plea to be entered was set for Monday at 2 p.m.