OAKLAND — A jury will decide whether the 2008 slaying of Christopher Wooton by Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield was done by a thug who refused to back down from a fight or a young man trying to defend himself after being harassed by a drunken mob of UC Berkeley fraternity brothers.
That is the question a jury of 10 women and two men will have to answer as they listen to what is expected to be more than a month of testimony in the murder case that began May 3, 2008. That's when Hoeft-Edenfield, 22, of Berkeley, stabbed Wooton, 21, of Bellflower, in the heart with a 3½-inch knife, authorities have said.
The killing occurred during a drunken brawl in the parking lot of the Chi Omega sorority house between Hoeft-Edenfield, his friend and about a half-dozen fraternity brothers.
The incident began as a shouting match sparked by one of Wooton's friends telling Hoeft-Edenfield and his friend to leave fraternity row. Things quickly escalated as Hoeft-Edenfield pulled out his knife and his friend Adam Russell began swinging an almost full bottle of Bacardi rum at the crowd.
What Hoeft-Edenfield was thinking when he pulled out his knife will have to be answered by the jury as it considers whether the killing was done in self-defense or was an act of malice deserving a first-degree conviction.
Deputy district attorney Connie Campbell said in opening statements Tuesday that it was the latter as she began to paint a portrait of
"He has a persona, a wannabe thug or an actual thug," Campbell said as she showed the jury a backpack Hoeft-Edenfield was wearing that he had marked up with sayings such as, "Thug Life," "Money, Guns, Marijuana," and "Killer Drew."
"His persona," Campbell said. "That's his presentation."
Wooton was stabbed after he threw Hoeft-Edenfield off a fraternity brother that the defendant was punching, Campbell said. Hoeft-Edenfield reacted by stabbing his knife into Wooton's chest, cracking a rib and puncturing Wooton's heart.
Just before the fight broke out, Campbell said, Hoeft-Edenfield shouted at the crowd: "Who wants to die tonight?"
"It wasn't a cut to scare them, no. This was malice. This was an intentional killing," Campbell said. "It is up close and personal — and so forceful that it severs the rib and jams into that vital organ, the heart."
Yolanda Huang, Hoeft-Edenfield's attorney, painted a different picture.
Huang said Hoeft-Edenfield was in no mood for a fight. He wasn't a thug, she said. Instead, he was an example of what hard work can accomplish.
Despite a learning disability that had him reading at a fourth-grade level in the 10th grade, Hoeft-Edenfield managed to graduate from high school, get a job and enroll at Berkeley City College, Huang said.
He was carrying a knife the night of the killing, Huang said, because he used it at a Jamba Juice store where, as part of his job, he had to open boxes.
The fight, she said, was sparked by the fraternity brothers who were drunk and eager to prove they owned the street on which Hoeft-Edenfield and Russell had been walking.
"The evidence will show that everything that Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield did "... was to try to protect himself and stop the beating," Huang said. "What he remembers is that he is surrounded by five or six guys, he's got guys stomping him, and all he hears is yelling."