A judge ruled today that there’s sufficient evidence to have Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield stand trial on murder charges for the stabbing death of University of California at Berkeley student Christopher Wootton near campus last year.At the end of a preliminary hearing that spanned four days over two weeks, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Vernon Nakahara said, “This is one case that jurors will have to decide.”Nakahara said that’s because he agrees with Hoeft-Edenfield’s lawyer, Yolanda Huang, that there is some evidence in the case indicates that Hoeft-Edenfield acted in self-defense in the May 3, 2008, incident in the parking lot of the Chi Omega sorority house at 2400 Warring Street in Berkeley but he also thinks “there are elements of aggressiveness by your client.”In her closing argument in the hearing, Huang said, “This was an unfortunate tragedy fueled by alcohol. It is not a murder.”Huang alleged that Wootton, a 21-year-old senior from Bellflower who was about to graduate with a nuclear engineering degree, and his friends from the Sigma Pi fraternity house, where he had served as vice president and pledge educator, had been drinking heavily all night and were looking for a fight.But prosecutor Stacie Pettigrew said Hoeft-Edenfield and a friend who was drunk and was brandishing a bottle “were the aggressors and were the only ones with weapons.””You can’t bring a knife to a fist fight,” Pettigrew said.The prosecutor said Hoeft-Edenfield and his friend had chances to leave a confrontation with Wootton and a large group of Wootton’s fraternity brothers but chose to stay and fight.
Pettigrew said, “If you’re scared, you should call the police. That’s what the victim (Wootton) did.”During the hearing, Pettigrew played a 911 call that Wootton made about 2:45 a.m. on May 3, 2008, in which he asked police to hurry to the scene because two men were threatening him and his friends.Pettigrew and Huang differ on what caused the confrontation between the two groups.Pettigrew said it appears that Hoeft-Edenfield’s friend became offended when one of Wootton’s fraternity friends asked the man where he was from and he took the remark the wrong way.But Huang alleged that “highly inebriated fraternity brothers were looking for a fight” and Wootton’s friends taunted Hoeft-Edenfield and his friend.She said Hoeft-Edenfield and his friend “were peacefully walking down the sidewalk” but were pursued by Wootton and his friends.Huang also said Hoeft-Edenfield were vastly outnumbered, as it was the two of them against 10 or 15 people in Wootton’s group, whom she described as “an irrational drunken mob.”The defense lawyer said, “My client’s actions were clearly defensive” and he was only using his knife to defend himself. Huang said Hoeft-Edenfield and his friend “were in survival mode.”After Nakahara ordered Hoeft-Edenfield to stand trial on murder charges as well as the enhancement clauses of using a deadly weapon, namely a knife, and inflicting great bodily injury, Huang said she had hoped that the judge would reduce the charges to manslaughter but didn’t realistically expect that to happen at the preliminary hearing level.She said Nakahara was “punting to the jury” and the issue of whether the case is murder or manslaughter is “a question for a jury.”Pettigrew said she agrees with Nakahara that it will be a difficult case to get a murder conviction.Nakahara ordered Hoeft-Edenfield, who was a student at Berkeley City College and worked at Jamba Juice, to return to court on June 18 to set a trial date. Huang said she doesn’t expect the case to go to trial until sometime next year. Hoeft-Edenfield remains in custody in lieu of $2.5 million bail.About 15 friends and family members came to court today to support Hoeft-Edenfield.Wootton’s parents attended most of the hearing but weren’t present today.UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said in a statement shortly after the incident that Wootton had planned to continue studying nuclear engineering in graduate school at the university.
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