After more than a week’s worth of testimony that sought to lay out point by point the evidence that led investigators to arrest Michael Hoyt for murder in the death of Kenneth Winter and discredit the defense’s theories, the prosecution brought their case to a close Friday.
The defense’s response was to ask for the entire case to be dismissed based on a lack of evidence.
Defense attorney Frank Carson said he was seeking a dismissal because the prosecution’s evidence against Hoyt, “doesn’t rise to the level of the legal standards.”
Hoyt is on trial for second-degree murder for the death of 67-year-old Winter. The prosecution contends Hoyt was angered over a traffic incident and beat Winter so severely it caused Winter’s death hours later. The defense claims it was Winter, who had a blood alcohol level of .20 percent, who was the aggressor in the altercation and that Hoyt acted in self-defense.
In seeking the dismissal, Carson pointed out the Winter never told the emergency responders that he was attacked or assaulted, but Winter did tell them “he was in a fight,” Carson said in his argument to Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova.
Cordova denied the defense’s request for a dismissal, stating it would be the jury’s decision to decide whether the fatal injury was sustained in offense or defense.
In the days prior the prosecution called lead investigator Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Detective Darwin Hatfield to the stand to detail the investigation process and lay the groundwork to discredit one of the defense’s key witnesses, Hoyt’s former girlfriend Barbara Romero, who was in the truck at the time of the incident.
The sheriff’s department began looking at Hoyt as a possible suspect in the beating after receiving a tip from a woman who said her friend worked with a man who had just detailed to her about being in a fight with “an older dude” out on Paulson Road.
Hatfield testified he first met Hoyt at his Turlock residence and found him wearing jeans with blood smears on the legs. The blood was found to belong to Winter, Hatfield testified. Investigators also took possession of Hoyt’s sneakers, which had blood droplets on them.
Hatfield testified that during his interview with Hoyt, he was told that Winter was the aggressor in the altercation and that he received his head injury when he swung at Hoyt and only managed to land a glancing hit before falling to the ground. Hoyt told the detective Winter “started swinging like a wild man.”
The detective also said Hoyt told him he thought the man was intoxicated. “He said he could smell alcohol on his breath,” Hatfield said.
According to Hatfield’s testimony, Hoyt told him during the interview that he was trying to hold Winter down and that he hit him around 10 times in the lower back area with the palm side of his fist. He said there was no kicking and he never hit Winter on the head.
A medical examiner testified earlier that Winter’s cause of death was from a ruptured spleen.
Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson called Winter’s daughter Jeniffer Winter to the stand Thursday in an effort to discredit the defense’s theory that Winter’s son Eric Winter could have fought with his father and caused the fatal injury at some point prior to Hoyt and Winter’s altercation on Paulson Road.
Jeniffer Winter was adamant in her testimony that her brother had nothing to do with the incident that put her father in the hospital and ultimately led to his death. She testified her brother used her car to get food and a car part that day and that he was only gone for about an hour and came back with both items.
She testified her brother and father had frequent spats because they worked together often, but that it only turned into a physical fight once and that was “a long time before any of this.” Jeniffer Winter said the first time her brother had seen her father on that February day was when they were summoned to the hospital.
After having their motion for a dismissal denied the defense began their case by calling Romero to the stand. At the time of the Feb. 1, 2010, incident, Romero was in a relationship with Hoyt and had traveled with him from their Nevada home to their Turlock residence. Romero was in the passenger seat of Hoyt’s truck when the altercation with Winter began. She testified it was Winter who approached Hoyt and that he was spewing a string of curse words and was the first one to throw a punch. She also said she saw Winter fall to the ground.
Romero testified the entire incident took about two minutes and that she didn’t see much of it because she didn’t want to see any violence and because she was looking for her cell phone – a claim Emerson openly found dubious and sought to discredit by having her pull out her cell phone while on the stand. However, a motion from the defense ended the exhibit before it began.
Emerson also expressed some disbelief that Romero never asked Hoyt what happened after the two left the scene.
“It’s your testimony you never asked your boyfriend about it?” Emerson asked.
“I was upset … I didn’t want to know about it,” she replied.
The prosecution attempted to portray Romero as an unreliable witness and pointed to some discrepancies between her statement to investigators hours after the incident and what she testified to at the preliminary hearing and now, at trial. In particular, Emerson directed questions to Romero about what injuries she saw on Hoyt. In her interview with investigators Romero never mentioned any injuries, but in the preliminary hearing she stated he had redness and puffiness on his face. She also testified she never saw Winter’s head bleeding, but in her videotaped interview with a sheriff’s investigator, which was shown to the jury, she stated she saw Winter bleeding from the head. Most of the videotaped interview was consistent with her previous testimony.
The jury is expected to get the case sometime next week and will be able to consider convicting Hoyt on lesser charges, including manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and assault likely to cause great bodily injury and/or death. Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday.