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Man Convicted of 2008 Berkeley Murder Asking for Conviction to Be Dismissed

Andrew Hoeft-Edenfield, 26, says the conviction should be dismissed because his lawyer was ineffective.

By Bay City News—

A man who was convicted of second-degree murder for fatally stabbing a University of California at Berkeley student near campus six years ago is arguing that his conviction should be dismissed on the grounds that his lawyer was ineffective.

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 is currently serving 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, 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 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.
 
At a hearing before Alameda County Superior Court Judge Larry Goodman today, Hoeft-Edenfield's new lawyer, Matthew Dalton, made a long list of allegations against Huang in arguing that Hoeft-Edenfield's conviction should be thrown out.

Dalton said Huang's close personal relationship with Hoeft-Edenfield, as her son was a friend of his, and her strong belief that he acted in self-defense gave her an unrealistic belief that Hoeft-Edenfield would at worst only be convicted of manslaughter and might even be acquitted.
 
Dalton also said that although Huang has been a lawyer for many years she hadn't handled a serious criminal case in 16 years so she "had no clue what she was doing" during Hoeft-Edenfield's trial.
 
In addition, Dalton alleged that Huang had a financial motive not to have Hoeft-Edenfield accept a plea bargain for the lesser crime of manslaughter because she was representing Hoeft-Edenfield and a friend, Adam Russell, 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. Dalton alleged that Huang wanted to win money in the lawsuit because she represented Hoeft-Edenfield for 18 months in his criminal case without pay.
 
"She knows if the criminal matter is resolved (with a plea bargain) the possibility of being paid goes away" because the allegations in the civil suit wouldn't have had merit if Hoeft-Edenfield had admitted his guilt, Dalton said.
 
Dalton also alleged that Huang got caught up in "her belief that there was a cause here" because she argued during the trial that Hoeft-Edenfield was being framed because he had gone after a fraternity member.
 
He said her theme was that Hoeft-Edenfield was "the little guy versus the fraternity system." Dalton said Hoeft-Edenfield should either get a new trial or receive the 12-year term that he could have received if he'd pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
 
But Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Shara Beltramo said Hoeft-Edenfield's second-degree murder conviction should stand because it ultimately was up to him to decide whether to seek a plea bargain or go to trial and risk being convicted of murder.
 
"He (Hoeft-Edenfield) knew he faced murder and life in prison," she said. Beltramo said that in a jail phone call recorded by authorities shortly before his trial started Hoeft-Edenfield told a friend, "I'm not taking a deal."
 
In addition, Beltramo said her office never made a firm plea bargain offer to Hoeft-Edenfield because it would have cleared any potential deal with Wootton's family to see if they would approve it.
 
Beltramo said that while Huang may have acted "unethically" in some instances, such as filing the lawsuit and improperly billing the court for some expenses, she still provided effective counsel for Hoeft-Edenfield.
 
"I don't think she would have sold this defendant (Hoeft-Edenfield) down the river simply for the chance of getting money," Beltramo said.
 
The prosecutor said Huang's defense of Hoeft-Edenfield was "a labor of love" because of her friendship with him and "she fought tooth and nail in this case."

Beltramo said Huang "didn't have a lot of trial experience" but was an experienced lawyer and "was smart." Goodman took the matter under submission and said he will issue a ruling within 30 days.

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