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Murder trial underway for road rage beating
Hoyt pic
Michael Hoyt

In his dark gray suit, eyeglasses and his graying hair and beard trimmed short, Michael Hoyt is hardly recognizable as the man who was arrested three years ago and charged with the brutal beating death of a 67-year-old man.

Just as unrecognizable are the final photographs taken of Kenneth Winter, which show a bruised and swollen face, a far different picture of the man who left his Denair home the morning of Feb. 1, 2010.

Hours later these two men would meet on a rural Turlock road in an altercation that would ultimately claim Winter’s life and leave the 53-year-old Hoyt facing a second-degree murder charge.

On Tuesday, a Stanislaus County Superior Court jury began hearing the details of this tragic encounter as the prosecution and the defense laid out their theories of what transpired between these two men and the traffic incident that sparked it all.

Shortly around 11 a.m. Feb. 1, 2010, Winter was turning his pickup onto Paulson Road from Linwood Avenue at the same time Hoyt was passing the intersection. Hoyt claims Winter failed to stop at the posted stop sign and that he had to take evasive action to avoid being struck by Winter’s truck. The two men continued driving down the road with Winter in front, until Hoyt decided to pass him up.

According to the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, Hoyt passed Winter and then stopped his truck in the roadway.

The prosecution contends Hoyt pulled Winter from his truck and began punching and kicking him, relentless in the attack even as Winter curled up in the fetal position on the ground. Winter would later be rushed to Emanuel Medical Center and undergo emergency surgery. He was pronounced dead in the early morning hours of Feb. 2, 2010.

“He was beaten so badly he had injuries from head to toe,” Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson told the jury.

In his opening statement Hoyt’s defense attorney Frank Carson quoted famous radio man Paul Harvey and his equally famous catch line of “the rest of the story.” Carson told the jury that when they hear the rest of the story they would learn Winter was the aggressor in the altercation and that he was intoxicated when he came after Hoyt, who Carson said was defending himself from an “angry alcohol-fueled powder keg.”

Winter had a blood alcohol level of .20 and two vodka bottles were found in his vehicle.

The defense claims Winter’s fatal injury was caused by a fall he took when trying to hit Hoyt and was exasperated when he was given cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Carson also called out the sheriff’s detectives handling the case by saying they set their sights on Hoyt early on in the investigation and ignored all other possibilities.

“They had tunnel vision and sympathy clouded their judgment,” Carson told the jury.

Winter’s widow, Bernice Winter was the first witness called by the prosecution. She testified that when Winter left their home that morning with their Pekingese dog Sasha he was sober and eager to get to his Turlock shop where he did work as a sheet metalist. Hours later she was summoned to the hospital and could barely recognize the man lying in the hospital bed.

“He was really beat-up,” she recalled. “He was very swollen. He had a big bump on his head and cuts and bruises.”

Medical examiner Dr. Eugene Carpenter was called to the stand Tuesday and testified Winter died from blunt force trauma. Carpenter testified that Winter had 45 areas on his body that showed signs of trauma, including bruises, scrapes, and cuts. He also had severe internal bleeding from a ruptured spleen and other injuries, including fractured ribs, Carpenter said.

The trial will continue this week.