At one end of the courtroom hallway stood the friends and family of Kenneth Winter. At the other end was Michael Hoyt surrounded by his loved ones. And nestled in between in a small room were seven women and five men tasked with determining justice.
A verdict was not reached on Friday and deliberations won’t resume again until Thursday because of a scheduling issue with one juror.
Hoyt, 53, is facing a charge of second-degree murder for the death of 67-year-old Winter. The closing arguments were presented to the jury Thursday and Friday with both sides claiming the fatal altercation was set into motion by the rage of one man or the other.
The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office contends Hoyt was so enraged with Winter over a traffic incident on Paulson Road in Turlock that he savagely beat Winter, causing the spleen to rupture, which eventually led to Winter’s death hours later at a hospital. Hoyt has testified it was Winter who was angry and acting erratic on the morning of Feb. 1, 2010, and that he was acting in self-defense when he struck Winter.
In his closing argument Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson pointed to the trauma present on Winter’s body as evidence of Hoyt’s rage, specifically his cracked ribs and ruptured spleen.
“When this was inflicted on Ken, there was a tremendous amount of force,” Emerson said. “To say they were a bunch of love taps is baloney.”
Emerson pointed to where the vehicles were stopped in the road as an important element in the case. While Hoyt testified he pulled over to the side of the road, Emerson said the blood evidence and witness statements all pointed to Hoyt stopping his truck in the middle of the road, which Emerson said was an indicator of Hoyt’s anger.
“That is Exhibit A of someone whose fuse has been lit,” Emerson said.
Emerson also recounted the testimony of Brooke Soares, who was the only independent witness to the incident. Under cross-examination by defense attorney Frank Carson, Soares became flustered at trying to recall all the details of what she saw out on Paulson Road, but Emerson told the jury she had enough of the important details right to prove herself credible. Emerson said Soares was correct on the location, the vehicles present, the woman present in Hoyt’s truck, her description of Winter, and her recollection of the assault.
“The defendant left because Brooke showed up,” Emerson said. “There was a witness to what he was doing. The evidence backs ups Brooke. It all adds up to a mountain of evidence that Mr. Hoyt is guilty of murder.”
Playing on that mountain motif, Carson told the jury in his closing argument that there was “an avalanche” of reasonable doubt.
Carson argued that it was appropriate for Hoyt to stop and try to confront Winter because he was driving so erratically he was jeopardizing the safety of Hoyt and Hoyt’s girlfriend. Carson pointed out that Winter had a blood alcohol level of .20 percent, more than double the legal limit for driving, and according to Hoyt, was the aggressor in the altercation.
“He’s (Hoyt) not the enraged jerk,” Carson told the jury. “Who’s the enraged jerk? It’s the guy who’s drunk. This wasn’t a mamby-pamby guy. This was a guy willing to go toe-to-toe.”
In trying to argue the point that Hoyt acted in self-defense, Carson told the jury that Winter didn’t consider the incident an attack, but rather a fight.
“The decedent himself didn’t view himself as a victim,” Carson said. “You can’t get around that. That’s reasonable doubt.”
After the case was handed over to the jury on Friday, Carson called for a brief hearing claiming jury tampering by Winter’s widow, Bernice Winter.
According to Hoyt’s father, Michael Hoyt Sr. and his nephew Joshua Hoyt, Bernice Winter referred to Hoyt’s testimony as “lies, lies, lies.” The two claimed the comment was made Thursday afternoon in the courtroom hallway and that it was in earshot of at least three jurors.
Superior Court Judge Ricardo Cordova ruled that he would question the jury after they had returned a verdict, but before it was read, as to if they heard anything and if it weighed in on their deliberations. He also instructed both sides to avoid contact with each other until the trial ends.