MODESTO — A defendant accused of murder testified in his own trial Tuesday that he defended himself against a 67-year-old man who attacked him during a suspected road rage confrontation three years ago in Turlock.
Michael Joseph Hoyt, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Ken Winter. Witness Brooke Avila told investigators she spotted Winter on the ground in the fetal position trying to protect himself while Hoyt was hitting him.
That didn't happen, Hoyt said on the witness stand, saying that Avila arrived on the scene at the end of the fight.
"No, sir, he was never in a fetal position," Hoyt said while answering questions from his defense attorney.
The defendant testified that Winter had both hands available to punch him when they were on the ground. He said the fight happened fast, and both men wound up on the ground struggling for position.
"We're on the ground, on our knees," Hoyt testified.
The prosecutor has argued that Avila saw Hoyt hitting Winter "so hard that his head was bouncing off the pavement." He told the jury that Winter was beaten so badly that his swollen face was unrecognizable to his family as he lay injured in a hospital bed.
During the struggle, "I ask him if he's done yet," Hoyt testified. "And he said, 'I think I am.' "
The defendant said Winter stood up and fell back toward Hoyt's pickup and hit the back of his head on the pavement. Hoyt testified that he helped Winter get up, then Winter turned and walked back to his pickup.
A pathologist has testified that Winter died from a ruptured spleen caused by blunt force trauma and his injuries were consistent with someone who was punched excessively. Doctors determined that 20 percent of Winter's spleen had been damaged.
Hoyt said during cross-
examination that he doesn't remember how many times he hit Winter on the left side of his lower back, where the spleen is. He testified that he hit Winter with a closed hand, but not with his knuckles, and he didn't hit Winter in the head.
The prosecutor has argued that Winter suffered injuries from head to toe, including fractured ribs and the ruptured spleen. He said those injuries aren't typically made with a glancing punch.
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.
Winter was legally drunk, with a blood alcohol level of 0.20 percent, more than twice the legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.
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.
During cross-examination, Hoyt said he thought Winter could kill him. He said Winter catapulted at him as he threw the first punch, which sent him to the ground. Then the struggle ensued.
"This guy was thrashing and moving all wild," the defendant testified.
Hoyt's girlfriend was in his pickup while the two men fought on the street. The defendant said he never considered calling 911, even when his girlfriend suggested they call authorities. "I remember telling her it's over, it's done," Hoyt testified. "We were leaving at the time."
Avila drove up in a white car and asked if everything was all right through her driver side window, which was rolled down about 10 inches, Hoyt said. Avila never got out of her vehicle to try to intervene before Hoyt drove away, the defendant testified.
"She showed after everything was over," Hoyt said about Avila.
Winter was standing up speaking to Avila, who was still in her car, as Hoyt and his girlfriend drove away, the defendant said.
The trial will continue today in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2394.