A prosecutor and a defense attorney agreed today that a dangerous mixture of alcohol and testosterone led to the stabbing death of University of California at Berkeley senior Christopher Wootton near campus two years ago.
But in their opening statements in the trial of 22-year-old Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, prosecutor Connie Campbell and defense attorney Yolanda Huang strongly disagreed about the appropriate verdict in the case.
Campbell said Hoeft-Edenfield presented himself as "a wannabe thug or an actual thug" who escalated a drunken shouting match by pulling out a knife and fatally stabbing Wootton at about 2:45 a.m. on May 3, 2008, and should be convicted of murder. But Huang said Hoeft-Edenfield, who worked at Jamba Juice in Berkeley and attended Berkeley City College, "doesn't have a malicious bone in his body" and acted in self-defense after he was "outnumbered, surrounded, kicked and stomped" by Wootton and a large group of Wootton's friends.
Huang told jurors that she will ask them to deliver a not guilty verdict at the end of the case, which is expected to last at least a month. Wootton, 21, who was from Bellflower in Southern California, was only weeks away from graduating with honors in nuclear engineering. He planned to continue studying nuclear engineering in graduate school at UC Berkeley, according to a statement issued by Chancellor Robert Birgeneau after the stabbing.Wootton's parents and several other family members sat on the prosecution's side of the courtroom of Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner today and 18 of Hoeft-Edenfield's family members and friends sat on the defense's side.
Campbell said Wootton was in "a celebratory mood" in the hours before the stabbing because he was about to graduate, so he and his friends embarked on a marathon round of drinking at a restaurant, a campus pub and at the Sigma Pi fraternity house, where he lived and served as vice president and pledge educator.
Campbell said what started out as a "friendly dialogue" between a group of Wootton's friends and Hoeft-Edenfield and one of his friends when
they encountered each other on the street near the fraternity house eventually "turned into a pissing contest."
She said, "It was a stupid verbal testosterone shouting match," with each side making profanity-laced threats.
But Campbell alleged that Hoeft-Edenfield escalated the situation by pulling out a knife and yelling, "Who wants to die tonight?"
Campbell said the confrontation moved to the parking lot of the Chi Omega sorority house in the 2400 block of Warring Street and Hoeft-Edenfield then stabbed Wootton so viciously that he cut through Wootton's bone, severed a rib and cut a 1 1/8-inch gap into Wootton's heart. Campbell said, "It's clear he wanted to use his knife." She said Hoeft-Edenfield presented himself as a tough guy because he was carrying a backpack marked with sayings such as "Thug Life, "Money, Guns, Marijuana" and "Killer Drew."
But Huang said she thinks the case is about "binge drinking and a sense of entitlement" on the part of Wootton and his friends, alleging that Wootton "was not a stranger to alcohol and violence" and that Wootton's group was itching for a fight that night.
Huang said Hoeft-Edenfield was simply trying to defend himself but admitted that "at a certain point he panicked."
But Campbell said Hoeft-Edenfield's actions after the stabbing refute the defense's claim that he acted in self-defense.
The prosecutor said Hoeft-Edenfield threw his knife into some bushes, although it was recovered the next day, tried to destroy other evidence in the case, didn't call police to say that he had feared for his life and phoned a friend from jail to try to get the friend to lie on his behalf.