Public Comment

A Mother's Plea for Justice

By Ellen Hoeft-Edenfield
Tuesday July 06, 2010 - 09:33:00 PM

On May 13, 2010 my only child, Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, was found guilty of 2 nd degree murder for the tragic death of a UC student in a trial that shattered my belief in the fairness of our court system. To begin with, the DA put me on her witness list, which kept me out of the courtroom, but then she never called me. This manipulation barred me from attending my own son’s trial.  


Two years before this verdict, on May 3, 2008, Christopher Wooten, a fraternity member at Sigma Pi, was killed while engaged in a violent brawl on frat row near U.C. Berkeley.  


My son Andrew was then a student at Berkeley City College and working part-time at Jamba Juice. It was simply unimaginable to those who know him, that Andrew, who had no criminal record whatsoever, could be involved in this tragedy.  


The morning after this nightmarish night, I found Andrew at the police station with a battered and bruised body. His elbow was shredded and it looked like half of his kneecap was gone; there were shoe prints on his back where he was kicked and stomped. His head was full of multiple bloody cuts and welts where he had been kicked in the head. My son’s friend had also been badly beaten. None of the frat boys were arrested for the assault. Chris sustained only one stab wound.  


That night Andrew had been at a birthday party down the street from the university’s fraternity row. After he and one of his friends left the party, they walked in front of Sigma Pi. One fraternity member testified that he decided my son was a troublemaker because he wore baggy clothes and had an earring. Inflammatory words were exchanged, and another fraternity member testified that my son and his friend left the scene.  


Sigma Pi fraternity members then chased Andrew and his friend up the street and into a parking lot. Several frat members involved admitted on the witness stand that they intended to challenge Andrew. Other testimony indicated that 10-15 Sigma Pi members and their friends formed a circle around Andrew and his friend. Anyone would have been terrified.  


During the trial, instead of focusing on the facts of what happened that night, the district attorney was allowed to present irrelevancies such as my son's 9 th grade backpack, on which he’d scrawled "thug life," the title of a popular Tupac Shakur album, claiming this indicated my son had a "thug mentality.” She also brought in school records from elementary school that said he’d thrown rocks at cars when he was 11½.  


That my son was a Boy Scout for many years and was very close to becoming an Eagle Scout was not allowed as evidence. His scout leader wanted to testify about my son’s days in scouting, but this too was not allowed. At Andrew’s bail hearing we had 10 character witnesses at the hearing who were also not allowed to testify on my son’s behalf. One of the witnesses was a previous employer who planned to offer Andrew a job if he was allowed out on bail.  


More recent, serious and pertinent evidence about Chris’s background was excluded, including that the fact that he’d been in a very similar fight just six months before. Chris had also had been thrown out of Kips, a local bar, for aggressive behavior. We had a witness who’d had his hair pulled out of his scalp and both of his arms broken by frats. The judge would not allow him to testify either.  


What is probably most important is that evidence was excluded about the ongoing culture of alcohol and violence that has become a part of fraternity row, not just in Berkeley, but also around the nation. The US Department of Health identifies alcohol as a special health risk in colleges.  


On the night he died, Chris Wooten had an alcohol blood level of .21, far beyond the level that causes intoxication. The corner’s report indicated he had 30 bruises on his body from other fights and on his MYSPACE blog he boasted about how he and his frat brothers had outnumbered another young man in an earlier incident and ground his face into the sidewalk while kicking his ribs and head.  


This culture of alcohol abuse and violence has led to a pending class action lawsuit against the fraternities at U.C. Berkeley filed by the South of Campus Neighborhood Association. One neighbor has security surveillance videotapes of frats breaking into his house and of regular violence in the area posted on his web site at . Information about the many neighbors who have suffered from fraternity unruliness was also not allowed, although it was essential to understanding the social problems that led to the attack on Andrew and to Chris’s death.  


California law gives each of us the right to self-defense. The community does not benefit when all the blame is placed on just one person--my son Andrew--and everyone else is absolved of responsibility.  


The law allows self-defense because people have the right to protect themselves when they are attacked and outnumbered 10 against 2 by drunk, aggressive and violent young men. Most of those convicted of 2 nd degree never receive parole.  


I have great compassion for the Wooten family and the loss of their child, which is probably the greatest loss any human being can experience. Further compounding this tragedy is the injustice dealt to my son. If Andrew had not defended himself he could very well be on life support or dead himself.  


To learn about how to support Andrew and ways to curtail alcohol abuse and violence by fraternities, please follow this link to the Lawsuit Against UCB Frat houses: