Minot Air Force Base woman charged with murder of ex-boyfriend

Andrea Johnson/MDN Heather Hoffman, 24, is pictured with her defense attorney, Ryan Sandberg, at her initial appearance on a Class AA felony murder charge on Wednesday.

Heather Renee Faith Hoffman, 24, Minot Air Force Base, is accused of killing her ex-boyfriend last week over a child custody dispute.

Hoffman, who is charged with Class AA felony murder in the April 21 shooting death of 22-year-old Alexander Eckert, made an initial appearance in court on Wednesday before Judge Doug Mattson, who decided to set bond at $500,000 cash or corporate surety and scheduled a preliminary hearing for June 9.

Prosecutor Tiffany Sorgen told the judge that Hoffman had been looking into the purchase of plane tickets for herself and her 11-month-old daughter. Hoffman was arrested hours later on Tuesday, said Sorgen. Mattson ordered Hoffman to surrender her North Dakota driver’s license to authorities and said she must wear an ankle monitor if released on bond. He also ordered that Hoffman have no contact with her child, who is being cared for by Hoffman’s relatives. Sorgen told the judge that Child Protective Services is also involved in the case and investigating to make sure the baby is safe.

Sorgen had asked for bond to be set at $1 million, asserting that the prosecution has an “overwhelming amount of evidence” in the “heinous” crime. Ryan Sandberg, Hoffman’s defense attorney, said the timeline given in a police affidavit and the statements provided by a male witness in the case don’t necessarily add up. Sandberg asked for the bond to be set at just $100,000 cash or corporate surety. He said this was the bond that was granted to Nichole Rice, the woman who has recently been charged with the 2007 murder of Anita Knutson. Sorgen said the circumstances in the two cases are completely different. Mattson, who is not assigned to the Rice case and did not set bond in that case, agreed that they are different.

Sandberg asked if the judge would consider allowing supervised visitation or phone calls between Hoffman and her daughter. Mattson said he would be open to considering supervised visitation after he is provided more information.

Hoffman’s ex-boyfriend, Eckert, was found lying dead in the doorway of a northwest apartment with a gunshot wound to the head at 12:41 a.m. on April 22. There had been ongoing conflict between Hoffman and Eckert regarding custody of their baby, Sorgen told the judge. According to a police affidavit filed with the court, Eckert planned to seek temporary custody of the baby at an upcoming court hearing.

According to the police affidavit filed with the court, Jesse Schroeder was a witness to the shooting. Schroeder told police that Hoffman had said she was just going to talk with Eckert. According to Schroeder, he stood nearby while Hoffman spoke with Eckert. According to the affidavit, Eckert opened his door, asked Hoffman what she was doing and said they were “not going to do this now.” Hoffman allegedly responded “Does it look like I’m joking?” Schroeder then allegedly heard a “loud pop.” According to the affidavit, Schroeder then drove Hoffman back to Minot Air Force Base after the incident, with Hoffman hiding in the backseat of the vehicle, which had tinted windows. Schroeder did not tell Minot Air Force Base security that Hoffman was in the vehicle when he drove onto the base. Hoffman allegedly told Schroeder not to say anything and said she hoped she did not have to worry about him.

Police recovered a .45 Caliber firearm about a block from Eckert’s apartment. Schroeder also told police that he had been with Hoffman when she purchased a firearm at a gun show in Minot in March. A .45 caliber spent cartridge casing was found outside Eckert’s residence on the sidewalk.

Sandberg pointed out during the hearing on Wednesday that a caller reported hearing a loud bang about an hour before calling police at 12:41 a.m. on April 22, which would put the time of the shooting at approximately 11:41 p.m. on April 21. MAFB security logs show that Schroeder drove onto the base at 10:49 p.m. on April 21. Sandberg told the judge it looks like there are discrepancies in the timeline given by Schroeder.

Sorgen said the affidavit doesn’t have to contain all of the evidence submitted to the Ward County State’s Attorney’s Office and just has to establish probable cause for a warrant. She also said that there isn’t necessarily anything suspect about the gap between the time the person overheard a bang and the time police were called.

“People don’t want to get involved,” said Sorgen. She said a neighbor might have been afraid to open the door and go out to investigate right away after hearing a gunshot.


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