A judge on Friday denied a defense attorney's motion to dismiss a charge of second-degree murder against his client, who is on trial accused of beating a 67-year-old man in a suspected road rage incident three years ago in Turlock.
Frank Carson, Michael Joseph Hoyt's defense attorney, argued that evidence presented in the trial does not reach the level of a second-degree murder charge. He said it doesn't even rise to the level of the less-serious charge of battery.
If a jury of seven women and five men determines Hoyt is responsible for Ken Winter's death, the jurors will have to choose which of various criminal charges is appropriate from second-degree murder to the less serious assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
"None of these charges should go forward, your honor," Carson argued.
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 to his nearby sheet metal shop, where he lost consciousness.
Winter was drunk when he died, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent to drive.
Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson argued that a witness spotted Winter on the ground in the fetal position, trying to protect himself while Hoyt was hitting him. He said Hoyt was the aggressor against an elderly man who was drunk and not a threat to the defendant.
"(Hoyt) admits to hitting Ken Winter on the ground 10 times," Emerson said in court Friday. "He was clearly acting with implied malice."
The defense attorney argued that his client was trying to protect himself against Winter, who punched first. Carson said both men fell to ground and were "thrashing about."
The prosecutor argued that the witness saw a one-way fight and that there is no evidence the defendant was injured during his encounter with Winter, whom the prosecutor says was not an angry man out of control.
Carson said it was Winter who was trying to force Hoyt off the road and that his client stopped only because he didn't want Winter following him to work.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova listened to the arguments from the attorneys without the jury in the courtroom Friday morning.
The judge told the attorneys that Winter's fatal injury could have been caused by an offensive or defensive punch from Hoyt, but that will have to be determined by the jury through examination of the circumstantial evidence.
"Based on that, I will allow the jury to make the call," Córdova said.
After the judge's ruling, the jury returned to the courtroom to hear testimony, which will continue Tuesday.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.