Trial begins in apparent road-rage incident that left Turlock man dead

rahumada@modbee.comApril 16, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    Rosalio Ahumada
    Title: Courts reporter
    Coverage areas: Criminal cases, breaking news
    Bio: Rosalio Ahumada has been a reporter at The Bee for more than seven years, previously covering crime and public safety issues. He also has worked at the Merced Sun-Star, covering education.
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    E-mail: rahumada@modbee.com

— Ken Winter was beaten so badly that his swollen face was unrecognizable to his family as he lay injured in a hospital bed just before he died.

Authorities say the 67-year-old man was beaten after a road rage incident on a Turlock rural road, and that Michael Joseph Hoyt was responsible for Winter's death.

Hoyt has maintained his innocence, telling investigators he was only trying to defend himself against Winter.

A prosecutor told a jury Tuesday that a witness spotted Winter on the ground in the fetal position trying to protect himself while Hoyt was "hitting him so hard that his head was bouncing off the pavement."

"The defendant beat Kenneth Winter to death out there on Paulson Road," Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson argued.

Frank Carson, Hoyt's defense attorney, argued that Winter was the aggressor, swinging the first punch, which grazed Hoyt's chin. Carson told the jurors that Winter was an "angry, alcohol-fueled powder keg" and that two bottles of vodka were found in his pickup.

Winter was drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 to drive.

Hoyt's trial started Tuesday morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court with opening statements from the attorneys. The trial is estimated to last two to three weeks. Hoyt, 53, remains free on bail.

The confrontation occurred shortly before noon Feb. 1, 2010, at Linwood Avenue and Paulson Road. Hoyt has said he thought Winter didn't stop his pickup at the stop sign.

They got out of their vehicles and a fight ensued, authorities say. Later, both men got back in their vehicles; Winter drove away to his nearby sheet-metal shop, where he lost consciousness.

Emerson told the jury that Hoyt left, and that investigators found him later at his home with blood-spotted jeans and sneakers. The blood came from Winter.

Carson said his client had a "demeanor of innocence" when he agreed to answer all the investigators' questions and didn't try to destroy any evidence. Hoyt also told them that Winter, at one point, fell back and hit his head on the defendant's pickup, which had a blood smear.

The prosecutor argued that Winter suffered injuries from head to toe, including fractured ribs and a ruptured spleen. He said those injuries aren't typically made with a glancing punch.

"It takes a tremendous amount of force to inflict that kind of injury, even on a man like Kenneth Winter," Emerson said in court, referring to Winter's poor health.

He said Hoyt didn't suffer any injuries except that he complained of pain on his right hand.

Carson argued that Hoyt punched Winter's lower back, which exacerbated a previous medical condition and caused some internal bleeding. While Hoyt was arrested within two hours of the confrontation, months passed before investigators learned Winter was a long-term alcoholic and had the lungs of a long-term smoker, hardened arteries and heart disease.

The defense attorney also told the jurors that CPR performed on Winter could have broken his ribs or ruptured his spleen. Carson said hospital records indicate Winter was injured previously, when his son assaulted him.

Hoyt acted lawfully when Winter attacked him, Carson argued, and he helped Winter get up after the fight. Winter, however, said not to call police and drove away to his shop.

Emerson argued that Hoyt's girlfriend, who was with the defendant in his pickup, suggested they call 911 after the confrontation occurred. The prosecutor told the jury that Hoyt said "no," and that he left the injured man behind.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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