Turlock road rage trial winds down

Prosecution points to medical expert, witness at scene

rahumada@modbee.comMay 2, 2013 

Michael Hoyt

Michael Hoyt was arrested for murder after a road rage incident near the 1700 block of Paulson Road in Escalon. The assaulted victim was identified as Kenneth Winter, 67. Attack occurred 2/1/10 afternoon.

UNKNOWN — Stanislaus County Sheriff

  • 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

— A prosecutor on Thursday told a jury that the numerous injuries Ken Winter suffered during a suspected road rage confrontation in Turlock do not portray a fight.

"They tell a story of a beat- down," Deputy District Attorney Wendell Emerson said in his closing argument. "He didn't get those injuries until he met the defendant out there on Paulson Road."

The prosecutor pointed at defendant Michael Joseph Hoyt and said he was the man who killed Winter, 67, with his bare hands three years ago. He argued that Hoyt was acting with uncontrolled rage and beat an elderly drunk man who couldn't defend himself.

Frank Carson, Hoyt's defense attorney, said the confrontation went the other way around. In his closing argument, he said Hoyt was just driving to work when he encountered Winter, "this maniac" who attacked his client.

"Michael Hoyt had to defend himself," Carson told the jury. "They want you to convict on half the story."

Hoyt, 53, has been charged with second-degree murder. The jury is expected to start deliberating today.

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 and almost struck his pickup.

"Whatever happened, it lit his fuse," Emerson argued. "It takes a high level of rage to kill Ken in the way he was killed."

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.

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

'Gold standard' account?

The prosecutor said Brooke Avila is the only independent witness who saw the confrontation. He called her the "gold standard" of witnesses because she didn't know anyone involved and has no bias.

Avila told investigators Winter was in the fetal position protecting himself while Hoyt was hitting him hard. Emerson told jurors if they believe Avila, then Hoyt's claim of self-defense and mutual combat is false.

Carson argued that Avila described a violent encounter, "a dog fight." He said Avila, whom the defense attorney called the prosecution's star, said Hoyt was wearing boots and a hat. Hoyt was wearing sneakers that day, and Winter was wearing boots, Carson argued, and a hat was found on the dashboard of Winter's pickup. Hoyt had no hat.

The prosecutor said Avila missed some small details. But the rest of her testimony is backed up by the evidence, such as the blood stains found on Hoyt's lower pant legs and shoes. Emerson said that indicated Winter was on the ground punching Hoyt with his bloodied hands.

"What she saw was corroborated by all the evidence in this case," Emerson argued.

Pathologist weighs in

Forensic pathologist Eugene Carpenter testified that Winter died from a ruptured spleen caused by blunt force trauma, and his injuries were consistent with someone who'd been severely punched.

Carson argued that Carpenter said this case was rare because body blows typically are not fatal. The pathologist said fist fights usually result in facial fractures. Winter suffered rib fractures and injuries from head to toe.

The defense attorney argued that Carpenter said the spleen injury could have been caused by a fall after Winter swung the first punch and it could have been exacerbated by punches from Hoyt or subsequent falls.

"That's all reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen," Carson told the jury.

The defendant testified that he hit Winter with the bottom of his closed fist; never with his knuckles. The prosecutor argued that Hoyt claims he hit Winter with minor taps, even though he says he feared for his life.

"That's a bunch of baloney," Emerson argued.

The prosecutor told the jury that Hoyt admitted that he pulled in front of Winter and stopped his pickup to get out and "express his disgust."

The defendant says he pulled over on the side of the road so Winter wouldn't follow him to work. Hoyt testified that he didn't want Winter to harass him at work.

Carson argued that it was Winter who told passers-by who stopped to help not to call police, and that he told a medic he was in a fight; not an assault.

"Kenneth Winter is not a victim at all. He knows that he is responsible for what happened," Carson told the jury. "Now, that's a consciousness of guilt."

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

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