Former Berkeley City College student Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield was sentenced at an emotional and lengthy hearing today to 16 years to life in state prison for fatally stabbing University of California at Berkeley senior Christopher Wootton near campus two years ago.
Wootton, 21, was from Bellflower in Southern California and was only two weeks away from graduating with honors in nuclear engineering when he was stabbed during a confrontation in the parking lot of a sorority house in the 2400 block of Warring Street at about 2:45 a.m. on May 3, 2008.
The stabbing occurred at the end of a drunken shouting match that developed when Hoeft-Edenfield, who worked at Jamba Juice in Berkeley, and a group of his friends encountered Wootton, who was a member of the nearby Sigma Pi fraternity house, and his friends on a street near campus.
Yolanda Huang, the defense attorney for 22-year-old Hoeft-Edenfield, admitted during his long and contentious trial that he stabbed Wootton, saying he acted in self-defense after he was outnumbered, surrounded, kicked and stomped by Wootton and a large group of Wootton's friends.
But jurors rejected Hoeft-Edenfield's self-defense claim and convicted him of second-degree murder after the equivalent of three full days of deliberations.
Summing up the case at the end of today's hearing, which lasted more than five hours and included tearful statements by family members of both Wootton and Hoeft-Edenfield, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner said each of the two young men pulled out objects during the confrontation. He said the difference between those objects "speaks volumes" about the differing ways in which they handled the situation.
Horner said Wootton pulled a cell phone out of his pocket, called police and told a dispatcher that Hoeft-Edenfield and a friend "are threatening our lives" and "are trying to kill us."
The judge said, "Those were the very last words he said on earth," and he was fatally stabbed less than a minute later.
Horner said that although Hoeft-Edenfield used his cell phone all the time and had it with him that night, "He never called police and never claimed self-defense."
Instead, Hoeft-Edenfield pulled out a knife, asked Wootton and his friends, "Who wants to die?" and fatally stabbed Wootton, Horner said.
The judge said Hoeft-Edenfield fled from the scene after the stabbing, discarded his knife and hid out at a friend's house, where he attempted to destroy evidence.
However, Berkeley police arrested Hoeft-Edenfield later that day after witnesses implicated him in the stabbing.
Hoeft-Edenfield didn't testify at his trial but said today he feels the Wootton family's pain.
"I want to let the Wootton family know I'm sorry for their loss and I pray for them every night," he said.
Dressed in a yellow jail jumpsuit, Hoeft-Edenfield said he was a son of God and a Christian and asked for mercy. He asked what use he was in prison and said if he were placed on probation, he could "give back to society" and volunteer at an animal shelter or with youth, which he has done in the past.
"God has a higher purpose for me," he said. He told Horner, "I ask for your consideration."
Horner said he thinks Hoeft-Edenfield's tears in court today were genuine, but said, "The tears are not for Christopher Wootton but are for himself."
Wootton had been drinking heavily the night he was killed, and Huang alleged during the trial and again today that the confrontation was started by a group of drunken and arrogant fraternity brothers.
But prosecutor Connie Campbell said, "You can't blame it on drunken frat boys" and alleged that Hoeft-Edenfield escalated a verbal altercation into a murder because he's had anger management problems most of his life.
Wootton's grandmother, Sharon Privey, said in a letter that Campbell read aloud in court that Wootton "was to be the first one in my family to graduate from college."
Huang said she thinks the message of the jury's second-degree murder verdict is, "If you're attacked by frat boys, you just have to take it" and can't fight back.
But Horner called that an unfair statement, saying it was "an enormous disservice to the jury and an insult."
"I reject it," he said.
Steven Lund, a physicist at the Lawrence Berkeley and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories who supervised Wootton when he worked at the Berkeley lab in the summer of 2007, said Hoeft-Edenfield's action "deprived the world of a significant talent with a chance to do much good work in the future."
Lund said Wootton "was a good-hearted and hard-working man" who had planned to get a master's degree and doctorate in nuclear engineering.