A judge today dismissed a Berkeley man’s second-degree murder conviction for fatally stabbing a University of California at Berkeley student near campus six years ago, ruling that his trial lawyer failed to provide him with effective assistance of counsel. Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, 26, a former Berkeley City College student, was found guilty on May 13, 2010, in connection with the death of 21-year-old Christopher Wootton in the early morning hours of May 3, 2008, and was sentenced to a term of 16 years to life in state prison.
Wootton, who was from Bellflower in Southern California, 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. According to the evidence in Hoeft-Edenfield’s four-month-long trial in Alameda County Superior Court in 2010, 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.
Hoeft-Edenfield’s trial attorney, Yolanda Huang, admitted during his trial that he stabbed Wootton, but said he acted in self-defense after he was outnumbered, surrounded, kicked and stomped by Wootton and a large group of Wootton’s friends. The California Supreme Court originally upheld Hoeft-Edenfield’s conviction in 2012, but last year it issued an order to show cause why he shouldn’t be entitled to relief based on his allegation that Huang rendered ineffective assistance by refusing to enter into plea bargain negotiations and failing to warn him of the potential consequences of going to trial.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman, who held a hearing on the matter last month, said in his ruling today that Huang failed to warn Hoeft-Edenfield that he could face a life sentence if he didn’t accept a manslaughter plea bargain, went to trial and was convicted of murder. Goodman also said Huang was ineffective in negotiating a possible plea bargain and had a conflict of interest because she was representing Hoeft-Edenfield’s friend, Adam Russell, as well as Hoeft-Edenfield in a lawsuit alleging that fraternity members started the fight that led to Wootton’s death.
The suit sought damages for emotional distress, negligence, assault and battery and conspiracy to bring about false arrest and malicious prosecution. Matthew Dalton, Hoeft-Edenfield’s new attorney, said today that Huang had never handled a murder case before she represented Hoeft-Edenfield, who was a family friend, and hadn’t handled any felony cases since the early 1990s. In his ruling, Goodman cited “the breathtaking level of disingenuousness, evasiveness and apparent dishonesty exhibited by Miss Huang throughout her representation of the petitioner (Hoeft-Edenfield).
” Goodman said Huang’s “lack of qualifications” to represent Hoeft-Edenfield combined with “her unexplainable arrogance” in dealing with prosecutors, judges and her own advisors “created a complex web of deception, misrepresentation, disloyalty and self-interest.” Hoeft-Edenfield, who remains in custody without bail at the Alameda County Jail in Dublin, smiled and waived at his family members and friends as he left court in Oakland following Goodman’s ruling.
In the hallway outside of court, his family members shouted, “Justice is served.” Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Shara Beltramo said her office will now try to enter into a plea bargain with Hoeft-Edenfield on a manslaughter charge and conduct a trial to try to convict him of second-degree murder again. Beltramo said her office can’t seek a first-degree murder conviction because the jury at his previous trial acquitted him of that charge.
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